Hands off coach Coet­zee

The South African Rugby Union mustn’t al­low it­self to be pushed into mak­ing a rash de­ci­sion. Fir­ing Al­lis­ter Coet­zee af­ter one dis­ap­point­ing sea­son would be the worst de­ci­sion they could make.

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

the worst thing that could hap­pen to Spring­bok rugby in 2017 is that coach Al­lis­ter Coet­zee is fired. This would in all like­li­hood re­sult in the Spring­boks mak­ing very lit­tle progress be­fore the end of the 2017 sea­son. Es­sen­tially, at the end of 2017, the na­tional team could find it­self with a new coach and will con­sist of new and in­ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers with a num­ber of poor per­for­mances to their name. Worse, they may have no clearer in­di­ca­tion of what will hap­pen to them in fu­ture.

Fol­low­ing the Spring­boks’ dis­as­trous tour of Europe in Novem­ber, for­mer Spring­bok coach Nick Mal­let com­mented on the fu­ture of cur­rent coach Coet­zee. “I feel dread­fully sorry for Al­lis­ter be­cause he is a de­cent guy, but bet­ter Spring­bok coaches than him have been fired.”

Mal­let had a point, and he should know; many would place him in that cat­e­gory. But on the flip side, a lot worse coaches than Coet­zee have held on to the job for a lot longer than just a few months.

Af­ter all, Coet­zee was only ap­pointed in April, a mere two months be­fore the Spring­boks’ first tests against Ire­land. His pre­de­ces­sor, Heyneke Meyer, held on to the job for four years de­spite some truly aw­ful per­for­mances, not to men­tion the dis­as­trous reigns of Ru­dolf Straeuli (2002-2003) and Harry Viljoen (2000-2002).

Coet­zee’s pedi­gree ques­tioned

Coet­zee is a World Cup-win­ning as­sis­tant coach, who dur­ing his stint as head coach at the Storm­ers turned the Cape Town-based fran­chise into the most suc­cess­ful team in the coun­try. How­ever, the racist rugby pub­lic con­tin­ues to paint him as a token ap­point­ment. It shouldn’t be a surprise; they did the same to Peter de Vil­liers. The South African Rugby Union (Saru) can­not al­low this big­otry-fu­elled pub­lic pres­sure to push it into mak­ing a rash de­ci­sion.

Fir­ing Coet­zee af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing sea­son, not tak­ing into ac­count the hos­pi­tal pass he re­ceived from Saru and Meyer in 2016, would be just such a rash de­ci­sion.

Let’s not for­get that Saru ap­pointed Coet­zee late and al­lowed Meyer to make de­ci­sions on which play­ers the Spring­boks should con­tract months be­fore he left. Saru also didn’t al­low Coet­zee to pick his coach­ing sup­port staff. This in­cluded the de­ci­sion to ap­point a de­fence coach with very lim­ited ex­pe­ri­ence in that role. Not sur­pris­ingly the Spring­bok de­fence was sham­bolic all sea­son.

If Coet­zee is fired, Saru is go­ing to have to spring into ac­tion. It has to re­cruit a new coach and ap­point him with more than enough time to pre­pare for the se­ries of three tests against France in June next year. But what will Saru do with Coet­zee’s ex­ist­ing sup­port staff; will they let all of them go so that the new coach can pick his own?

Trans­for­ma­tion of SA rugby

So who is next in line to be Spring­bok coach, if Coet­zee is fired? Saru would more than likely have to ap­point a white male in his place. Be­cause, let’s be hon­est, Saru hasn’t re­ally gone about the job of de­vel­op­ing black coaches in the sport with much vigor, so its op­tions are some­what lim­ited. The value that Coet­zee brings as a black coach to driv­ing the trans­for­ma­tion agenda of Saru is im­mea­sur­able. Saru has com­mit­ted it­self to trans­for­ma­tion tar­gets that it has a long way to go to meet by 2019. By 2019, the Spring­bok squad must have 15 black play­ers out of 30, ac­cord­ing to Saru’s Trans­for­ma­tion Strate­gic Plan. The start­ing 15 has to have eight black play­ers and the bench a fur­ther four. Sixty per­cent of all these black play­ers have to be “black African”, in Saru’s lan­guage. While fans may not be im­pressed with the test match ex­pe­ri­ence Coet­zee has given Te­boho Mo­hojé, El­ton Jan­tjies, Damian de Al­lende, Lionel Mapoe and Nizaam Carr this year, this will go a long way to mak­ing sure that Saru meets these tar­gets. It can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated how im­por­tant it is to these play­ers to have a black coach who backs them, builds their con­fi­dence and gives them the op­por­tu­nity to be­come the best rugby play­ers they can be. Re­plac­ing Coet­zee with a white coach would be the worst de­ci­sion Saru could make and would once again make it patently clear that SA rugby only pays lip ser­vice to trans­for­ma­tion. Saru needs a coach that can build a side that is both racially trans­formed and can de­liver re­sults on the field. It’s a tough ask, but it’s not im­pos­si­ble. The tal­ent is there, it just needs to be moulded into a win­ning side. The de­ci­sion about who the coach is go­ing to be to drive this trans­for­ma­tion process is one that Saru needs to take very se­ri­ously.

Spring­bok Lood de Jager and his team mates stand de­jected af­ter their loss against Wales in Cardiff.

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