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.
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.