Time for Coet­zee to grow a set of balls

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

Hands down, the most pre­dictable SA rugby head­line in 2017 has been that the Spring­boks will im­prove from last year’s eight-de­feat hor­ror.

Butch James and Nick Mal­lett have given their ba­sic rea­sons, but most of us have ar­rived at that con­clu­sion be­cause we be­lieve the Boks can’t pos­si­bly lose to Italy again. If the talk about Bren­dan Ven­ter and Franco Smith join­ing the Bok coach­ing staff is true, the team can only get bet­ter.

Proposed de­fence coach Ven­ter – a de­mand­ing man with a low tol­er­ance for bullsh*t – may not be ev­ery­one’s cup of tea, but his white-hot in­ten­sity will drive both Bok coach Al­lis­ter Coet­zee and his team, not to men­tion driv­ing the lazy and com­pla­cent fac­tion of SA Rugby’s ad­min­is­tra­tors up the wall.

Smith has de­nied that he’s leav­ing the Chee­tahs, but if he gets sec­onded to the na­tional team the ques­tion of style, which proved as much as any­thing to be the cat­a­lyst of the Boks’ mis­er­able year, will go a long way to­wards be­ing an­swered on the ba­sis of the rugby his team played last year.

But one ques­tion re­mains: Will Coet­zee be a more dy­namic, strong and de­ci­sive leader this time around?

While ev­ery­one came to ac­cept the mit­i­gat­ing cir­cum­stances – the late ap­point­ment, the player drain, the in­juries and the ju­niorised team and sup­port staff – Coet­zee’s own cul­pa­bil­ity came per­ilously close to be­ing swept un­der the car­pet.

The un­cer­tainty over the Boks’ play­ing style may seem a su­per­fi­cial con­cern. But it was the first hint of Coet­zee’s in­de­ci­sion about turn­ing the Boks into a team in his own im­age. That’s the thing about coaches that bend their teams to their will: whether the rugby they play is pretty or ugly, there is the im­print of their per­son­al­ity.

From the un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing the cap­tain to the change of heart on the road to Da­m­as­cus – re­call­ing Morne Steyn, for ex­am­ple – the Boks smacked of a team coached by a com­mit­tee through­out last year.

What the Spring­boks need isn’t re­ally a se­cret: they need to play 21st-cen­tury rugby; win more games than they lose en route to hope­fully com­pet­ing for their third World Cup title in 2019; and to trans­form much like cricket seems to be do­ing seam­lessly at the mo­ment.

As the agent of change ap­pointed on that hoped-for prom­ise, Coet­zee can’t be mis­taken for some­one who achieved any of those things with a de­gree of sat­is­fac­tion last year.

With strong per­son­al­i­ties like Ven­ter and Smith in his sup­port staff, strength of char­ac­ter and clar­ity of roles will be even more im­por­tant to Coet­zee. With those two on board many in the me­dia will take to by­pass­ing Coet­zee and in­stall them as de­fault head coaches in the na­tional rugby dis­course.

Maybe to give a sense of the kind of man Coet­zee is I prob­a­bly should share a story of a fall­out we had in 2006. Hav­ing writ­ten one of those in­fa­mous open let­ters to Jake White, I called Coet­zee and fel­low as­sis­tant coach Gert Smal White’s yes men.

To this day I still be­lieve I had a point and, based on the fact that they said they’d never talk to me again, Coet­zee and Smal felt they had a point, too. But the up­shot is Smal still doesn’t talk to me whereas Coet­zee buried the hatchet by of­fer­ing me a beer at a Bok me­dia gath­er­ing a year later.

Coet­zee doesn’t mind swal­low­ing his pride to do what he feels is the right thing. But to come out with some credit from this Bok job he will need to be a heck of a lot more hard­e­gat than he has been so far.

Ei­ther that or suf­fer the in­nu­endo of sup­pos­edly not re­ally be­ing in charge of his team like Peter de Vil­liers did through­out his ten­ure.

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