Coet­zee needs to give his fans some­thing to work with

CityPress - - Sport - Simnikiwe Xabanisa sports@city­press.co.za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @Simx­a­ban­isa

Years ago, Kitch Christie got roped into the kind of dis­agree­ment one couldn’t avoid if one worked for Louis Luyt.

With South Africa host­ing the 1995 World Cup and the team not look­ing like much early in the build-up that year, the then SA Rugby Foot­ball Union pres­i­dent thought he’d add his two cents’ worth by sug­gest­ing Christie coax Naas Botha out of re­tire­ment and into his Spring­bok squad.

Af­ter a heated ar­gu­ment, Christie is said to have got up, sym­bol­i­cally thrown his car keys on the ta­ble and told Luyt some­thing along th­ese lines: “Doc, if you want to drive this bus, this is where I get off.”

Hav­ing stood up to the big­gest bully South African rugby has known, Christie went on to win all 14 of his matches in charge of the Boks and, of course, the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Be­sides re­port­edly be­ing a sadist in train­ing, Christie be­lieved in three things: the play­ers had to call him Coach or Mr Christie; di­vid­ing his squad into a start­ing XV and re­place­ments; and that the first two names on the team sheet were the tight heads and the re­serve tight head.

Look­ing at Al­lis­ter Coet­zee’s Boks, it’s dif­fi­cult to see a sim­i­lar clar­ity of pur­pose about what he wants to do with them and how.

Coet­zee was re­cruited to achieve three things: to nudge South Africa’s no­to­ri­ously an­ti­quated play­ing pat­tern along into modern times; to trans­form the team to SA Rugby’s 50% tar­get; and to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Ja­pan.

While he may say the Promised Land is three years away, there is lit­tle about the team that sug­gests this is the foun­da­tion from which to reach that goal.

De­fence, which is sup­posed to be a dead give­away of a team with de­sire and dis­ci­pline, is a sham­bles; no­body has a clue what Coet­zee’s start­ing XV is; and the play­ing pat­tern re­mains that im­pos­si­ble thing in life, half-preg­nant.

Most head coaches nor­mally take the role of de­fence coach so that play­ers can be ac­count­able to them. Hav­ing three de­fence coaches in less than six months sug­gests it’s ei­ther been passed around like a hot potato or seen al­lo­cated as an af­ter­thought.

Coet­zee has been in the job for seven months, yet we don’t know small but re­veal­ing things like who his ideal cap­tain is, what he likes in a fly half, whether he be­lieves in an open-side flanker or not, and so on.

This is all a bit prob­lem­atic be­cause, in the South African con­text, the man­date he has been given means he has been ap­pointed as an agent for change.

But few things scream that there is a lack of change more than a kickand-chase game that hasn’t con­sis­tently worked since 2009, the in­ex­pli­ca­ble re­turn of the likes of Willem Al­berts and Morné Steyn, and the con­tin­ued award­ing of to­ken three-minute caps to black play­ers.

If he is to ful­fil the role en­vis­aged for him, Coet­zee needs the re­silience and at­ti­tude that saw him play the game on the wrong side of the tracks, but end up coach­ing it on the right side.

Chang­ing how the Spring­bok team plays and looks, and re­turn­ing them to the win­ner’s cir­cle at the World Cup will not be a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment. As the one pre­sum­ably driv­ing this bus, Coet­zee needs to drag ev­ery­one, even if they are kick­ing and scream­ing, to the Promised Land and get rid of the dial tone that has mas­querad­ing as his lead­er­ship.

The lan­guage com­ing out of the team – where they talk about phys­i­cal­ity as a game plan and bang on about still hav­ing their aura – is wor­ry­ing.

In a game in which phys­i­cal courage is a cur­rency, phys­i­cal­ity is one of the givens in the quest to win, and auras are en­gen­dered by win­ning, not los­ing, streaks.

As some­one who would like to see South Africa play dy­namic, win­ning rugby that is in­clu­sive of ev­ery­one who lives in this coun­try, I’m not sorry for want­ing Coet­zee to suc­ceed.

But the time has come for him to give his con­fused sup­port­ers a sign that there’s a plan other than just wait­ing for in­jured play­ers to re­turn, a new cap­tain and, hope­fully, bet­ter luck next year.

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