Seek­ing vi­sion for 2019

It’s been a dis­mal year for the South African na­tional rugby team as it strug­gled with a new coach and lack of ex­pe­ri­ence. But the play­ers also started be­ing groomed to be­come fu­ture greats. If only Al­lis­ter Coet­zee would let the nation in on his vi­sion.

Finweek English Edition - - THE OPTIMIST’S GUIDE: SPRINGBOKS - Ed­i­to­rial@fin­week.co.za

when it comes to re­viv­ing the Spring­boks’ for­tunes, there is no golden goose. If the Spring­boks are to chal­lenge the world’s best go­ing for­ward, we need to be pre­pared to let coach Al­lis­ter Coet­zee do the hard work of groom­ing the Spring­bok play­ers of the fu­ture. Coet­zee will be hop­ing that in­vest­ing in the fu­ture stars will bear re­sults sooner rather than later.

In the wake of the Spring­boks’ hu­mil­i­at­ing but not unexpected de­feat to the Eng­land rugby team in Novem­ber, coach Ed­die Jones re­flected on his Eng­land team and its cur­rent form. Jones said that his team had three or four guys who will al­ways do the right thing on the field and an­other five or six that are on the verge of be­ing that con­sis­tent.

“We’re start­ing to get that den­sity of lead­ers that are go­ing to cre­ate a great team,” said Jones. “We’ve got guys start­ing to per­form to eight out of 10, ev­ery game, and when you do that you start to be­come world class.”

Now turn your thoughts to the Spring­boks and try and find one player who this sea­son did the right thing on the field ev­ery time, or was even close to be­ing that con­sis­tent.

The only player that gets close was burly flanker Te­boho Mo­hojé, who put in some bruis­ing per­for­mances in the Castle Lager Cham­pi­onship. So the ques­tion we need to ask is why the Spring­boks’ per­for­mance is so in­con­sis­tent.

Re­build­ing the Spring­boks

Many will point fingers at the coach, but the facts speak for them­selves.

South African rugby has come to the end of an era and 2016 was all about the re­build­ing process. Gone are great Spring­bok play­ers like Vic­tor Mat­field, Schalk Burger, Fourie du Preez and Bis­marck du Plessis. Most of the play­ers that turned out for the Spring­boks this sea­son had fewer than 10 caps and many more had fewer than 20.

Take a look at the Spring­bok team that played against Wales. There were only two play­ers in the start­ing 15 with over 50 tests. The next two most-ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers had only played 20-some­thing tests each, while the other 11 play­ers all had played fewer than 15 tests go­ing into the Wales game.

This is a di­rect con­se­quence of the pre­vi­ous Spring­bok coach, Heyneke Meyer’s, over­re­liance on a core group of play­ers, giv­ing very lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties to promis­ing young­sters.

One of the key re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of a coach is to leave the team in bet­ter con­di­tion than when they took over, and on this score Meyer failed dis­mally. Meyer was more likely to try and coax a re­luc­tant for­mer Spring­bok out of re­tire­ment than give a young­ster an op­por­tu­nity to prove him­self.

The need for patience

Many South African rugby fans fail to ac­knowl­edge this re­build­ing project and still ex­pect high stan­dards of per­for­mance from a new group of play­ers with very lit­tle test ex­pe­ri­ence. As if the jump from pro­vin­cial rugby to in­ter­na­tional rugby is just a walk in the park. Many still think the Spring­boks are the sec­ond or third best side in the world, when in truth they are at best fifth or sixth right now. Coet­zee’s job was made dou­bly hard by his late ap­point­ment and the fact that the South African Rugby Union (Saru) didn’t al­low him to pick his own as­sis­tants, both is­sues that had clear neg­a­tive im­pacts in 2016. But the thing that com­pounded the “in­ex­pe­ri­ence” prob­lem for the new coach was the fact that his ex­pe­ri­enced core play­ers who sur­vived from the Meyer era de­liv­ered poor per­for­mances through­out 2016. Jones ar­gues that it is up to the in­di­vid­u­als in a team to want to get bet­ter. “It’s not some­thing that can be coached into them,” he said. “They have to work that bit harder and pay at­ten­tion to things. “It’s about what you do when the coach isn’t there that’s im­por­tant,” he added. 2017 will be the sea­son that these more ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers make or break their fu­ture in­volve­ment in Coet­zee’s Spring­boks. They need to show Coet­zee that they still have the hunger.

Coet­zee’s vi­sion for 2019

Coet­zee has spo­ken con­sis­tently about the play­ers he has identified to build a team around for the 2019 World Cup. How­ever, he has never re­ally taken the nation into his con­fi­dence about what ex­actly this 2019 blue­print looks like.

Per­haps if the South African rugby-lov­ing pub­lic is go­ing to buy into his lead­er­ship, they need to un­der­stand his vi­sion more fully.

How­ever, to sack the coach af­ter a mere few months in charge, when he has only just be­gun the re­build­ing of the Spring­boks, would be rash and fool­hardy. Coet­zee needs 2017 to give his 2019 squad game time. The younger play­ers need to be given a chance to put up their hands and the older, more ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers need to prove to Coet­zee they still have what it takes, or step aside.

As Coet­zee’s Spring­boks be­come more ex­pe­ri­enced test play­ers and be­come more fa­mil­iar with their team­mates, the re­sults will be­gin to take care of them­selves.

Al­lis­ter Coet­zee Spring­bok coach

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