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.
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