What to do with Coetzee is the million-dollar question
In the immediate aftermath of the Springboks’ 49-0 defeat by the Wallabies in 2006, my then sports editor thought it would be a great idea for me to go to Jake White’s hotel room to ask him if he would resign as coach.
White, who had a post-match function to attend, was in the process of getting into his number ones when he opened the door. Naked from the waist up, he looked like a prize fighter, which made me even more nervous as I already dreaded asking the question.
His answer to the pointed query was as confrontational as he looked: “What? And watch someone else go on to win the World Cup with my f ***** g team next year?”
Allister Coetzee, in the unenviable position of being the first Bok coach to lose eight tests (out of 12) in a year, this week delivered a whimpering version of what White said a decade ago, saying he won’t resign as he very much wants to be part of the solution.
The slight difference is that when White said what he did, he had been Bok coach for three seasons and had won the 2004 Tri-Nations. He came good and won the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
Coetzee has three problems: it’s his first season and he hasn’t exactly made a winning impression; there is little in the way he has handled things that suggests a turnaround in the near future; and no Springbok coach has so far recovered from his position. So, what to do with a coach who won’t make his employers’ lives easier by resigning, but who appears to have lost the confidence of the public and his players?
They need to either keep him, replace him with another local, or find an overseas coach for the job. The rumour mill suggests SA Rugby would like to retain him, but the tricky bit is doing it in a way that will spell a definite way forward for the Boks.
One of the things that might have been overlooked in hiring Coetzee and saddling him with inexperienced coaching staff was the conditions under which he thrived when he was with the Boks and the Stormers. He was always surrounded by good coaches such as White, Gert Smal and Eddie Jones (at the Boks), and Rassie Erasmus, Brendan Venter, Gary Gold and Jacques Nienaber at the Stormers.
The point is everyone – possibly even Coetzee – underestimated just how much hand-holding would go into his job as Bok coach. By the looks of it, he has struggled with mapping out the big picture and helping his assistant coaches to properly do their jobs.
If that is the case, maybe SA Rugby should replicate the environments he has worked in before by bringing in heavyweights. For example, I still don’t understand how a bloke coaching Italy beat SA Rugby to convincing Venter to help out with defence, especially when he lives in Strand.
How has the Bok line-out regressed when Victor Matfield is on our TV screens every week? And has anyone thought of getting Fourie du Preez to help the halfbacks with their play? These would all be done on a consultancy basis, with money being an object.
The other solution would be to replace Coetzee with whichever local coach is the flavour of the month. We’ll be giddy with expectation, but when the reality of how deep-seated the problems are sinks in, we’ll get bored and ask for the next poor sod to be appointed.
The attractive solution would be an overseas coach who won’t get browbeaten into taking somebody else’s assistants, will drag us out of the Stone Age nonsense that sees us discuss physicality as if it’s a playing pattern, and maybe he’ll go some way towards contextualising the transformation debate as a foreigner who’ll hold a mirror up to our faces.
By the latter point, I mean that it would be great to have a coach who picks a player on what he sees in front of him and not on a historical basis.
But with SA Rugby struggling with the Absa-sized hole in its sponsorship coffers and weighed down by mostly freeloading unions who trade recklessly, there is little to no chance of appointing an overseas coach.
This makes the next couple of weeks the most critical in the history of South African rugby.