Coet­zee re­laxed about con­fronting ghosts of 2016

CityPress - - Sport - SIMNIKIWE XABANISA sports@city­press.co.za

On Thurs­day, two years to the day un­til the 2019 Rugby World Cup fi­nal, Spring­bok coach Al­lis­ter Coet­zee cut a much more re­laxed fig­ure than he did three years be­fore the land­mark last year.

With the Boks hav­ing lost all three of their end-of-year tour tests in 2016, in­clud­ing their first de­feat to Italy, Coet­zee – buoyed by a record that reads played nine, won five, lost two and drawn two this sea­son – sounded a lot more op­ti­mistic about play­ing against Ire­land, France, Italy and Wales.

What’s your idea of a good tour?

You’ve got to look at the mini-bat­tles you’re fight­ing be­fore you get to the out­come. You have to get a few things right first. Our learn­ings from the past are that you go over there with a south­ern hemi­sphere mind-set, play­ing in north­ern hemi­sphere con­di­tions with north­ern hemi­sphere ref­er­ees. You’ve got to win that bat­tle first by adapt­ing. You’ve also got to un­der­stand what the threats are. You can’t just go with a south­ern hemi­sphere men­tal­ity, there has to be a bal­ance in how you deal with that.

Our kick­ing game has re­ally been good this year. We’ve had most of our line-outs in op­po­si­tion ter­ri­tory and that gave us a plat­form to score tries. So, when those build­ing blocks are in place and the re­sult is not there, the other side is just bet­ter on the day. So, if we’ve done all the hard work and our best is not good

enough, I can live with that.

You spoke about the op­po­si­tion’s threats. What are they?

They are all tough games on tour for us. The Ir­ish will be a dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion be­cause it’s the be­gin­ning of their sea­son. They’ve got cer­tain threats we have to deal with. The first is that the set piece bat­tle is go­ing to be huge. We have to make sure we deal well with the aerial bom­bard­ment. Conor Mur­ray is a top scrum half, he kicks the ball well and (fly half) Jonny Sex­ton is the same – tac­ti­cally, they’re good kick­ers.

Italy will have mas­sive con­fi­dence against us. If you look at how they played against Eng­land, they had Eng­land go­ing for about 68 min­utes, and that was at Twick­en­ham. These so-called min­nows ... there are no min­nows any more. Even at a World Cups – and you’ll see in 2019 – there’s no big dif­fer­ence. If you don’t get it right on the day, you can get beaten. It’s a chal­lenge.

We lost to Ire­land last year; France at home will be much bet­ter and very dif­fi­cult to beat; ob­vi­ously Italy; and Wales, we lost three of our four [end-of-year tour] games last year. It’s a tough tour, but we’ve put in the hard work.

What’s the big­gest les­son you’ve learnt from last year?

The big­gest les­son I’ve learnt is mak­ing sure that there’s co­he­sion in your man­age­ment team; an un­der­stand­ing that coach­ing is an in­te­gra­tion of philoso­phies – that it’s not play­ing de­fence, de­fence, de­fence or at­tack, at­tack, at­tack. It’s all in­te­grated. We have a syn­ergy and the coaches have bought into that.

And the play­ers?

The ‘why’ is the most im­por­tant thing – you have to get play­ers to un­der­stand why they’re here. What is the pur­pose of play­ing for the Boks? Is it to get the jersey and to say ‘I’ve been a Spring­bok’? They play to rep­re­sent an en­tire na­tion and this team un­der­stands that more than any­thing. They know that, if you’re here, you need to flip­pin’ work hard.

De­fence con­sul­tant Bren­dan Ven­ter, who also has a con­tract with Italy, won’t be avail­able for the game against the Ital­ians. Given that the Boks and the Ital­ians are in the same group at the World Cup, what is the story with him go­ing for­ward?

He’s got one job as a de­fence con­sul­tant. He’ll al­ways be a con­sul­tant as long as I want him as one. I’m happy with the value he’s ad­ding and I know how I want us to play, so that’s why I don’t panic when he’s not with us.

What does the re­turn of Rassie Eras­mus mean in terms of his and your roles?

To be hon­est, I also don’t know how that’s go­ing to work, what his job will en­tail. I sup­pose that’s a bridge we’ll have to cross when we get to it, but now my fo­cus is purely on get­ting the re­sults and mak­ing sure this tour is a suc­cess. If you don’t put a name there [Eras­mus’ po­si­tion], I’ll work with any­one who can con­trib­ute to the suc­cess of South African rugby and has the same be­liefs of trans­form­ing the Spring­boks into a unit that rep­re­sents the en­tire na­tion. But there need to be clearly de­fined roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties with­out any grey ar­eas. My sole job here is to trans­form the team in the way we play, our team cul­ture and team en­vi­ron­ment in a way that all South Africans can be proud of. It’s not a wish or a hope, I know it’s an im­per­a­tive. The right thing is to make sure that I give op­por­tu­ni­ties to all play­ers in this coun­try who are good enough to play for South Africa. Our di­ver­sity is a strength.

PHOTO: NIC BOTHMA / EPA

UN­RUF­FLED Spring­boks coach Al­lis­ter Coet­zee ap­peared calm this week ahead of the yearend tour

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