It seems a lot like ‘days of future past’ for Allister and his men ...
FOR some Springbok coaches, it has taken a while before the time arrives when they go into survival mode. But for Allister Coetzee, it has come a bit quicker.
The Boks should easily beat the Wallabies in Pretoria. The post- isolation record between the two countries reflects that in Tests played on the Highveld, the Australians have won just once in 12 meetings.
But given the team that Coetzee has selected for today, with his “safety net” Morne Steyn starting at flyhalf, you’d have to greet the expected Bok win by asking: “So what?” While it is understandable that Coetzee, faced with the prospect of a negative win percentage from his first year, is looking at this game as a win-at-all-costs, at some stage you have to start asking when the bigger goal comes into mind.
It wouldn’t bother me so much that Steyn is already 32, and will be 36 by the time the next World Cup arrives, if it weren’t for the fact that Coetzee’s predecessor was pilloried for sticking with him as long ago as 2012.
Heyneke Meyer eventually did see the light and in the quest for the more complete game that was being demanded, he jettisoned Steyn and started to back younger players such as Johan Goosen, Pat Lambie, and then Handre Pollard.
Steyn does know Loftus well and his kicking could win the game for the Boks today. But how does his playing style fit into growth towards the game that everyone, including presumably Saru, were aspiring to when the change of coach was made after last year’s World Cup?
Goosen was the man who Meyer backed ahead of Steyn for the corresponding fixture against the Wallabies in 2012. Goosen delivered a star performance. He was supposedly the future then, and he is still young enough to be the future. If Elton Jantjies was going to be dropped now, surely it was the younger, more dynamic Goosen who Coetzee should have turned to?
If you are going to forward the argument that Goosen hasn’t played flyhalf for a while because of the presence of Dan Carter at his French club, here is a thing – Goosen has more recent experience of playing flyhalf than Lambie, who wears the No 15 today, has of playing fullback.
We know what Coetzee wants. He wants a flyhalf who will ensure that the game is played in the right areas of the field. Goosen can do that. He did that in 2012. And he can bring other strengths that Steyn can’t.
Winning in the here and now is clearly now uppermost in Coetzee’s mind, for he is in that space where he just feels he needs to survive. Many have been there before him.
But is it good for the South African game that we appear once again to be in the often repeated sequence that was exemplified by the 2001 Test between these two teams at today’s venue, when the attackminded Harry Viljoen switched tack and selected Braam van Straaten to spearhead a kicking game?
The Boks did win, but it was meaningless in the greater scheme of things. While it might have given Viljoen a reprieve from the massive pressure that had been weighing down on him, the change in approach did not take the South African game forward.
If the Boks win today because of an old flyhalf following old tried- and- tested philosophies, it won’t take the Boks forward either.
Let us not forget why Coetzee is in his position. Transformation was one issue the critics had with Meyer, but his one-dimensional playing style was an even bigger one.
When I finally gave up on the thought of Meyer being successful as a Bok coach was when towards the end of the World Cup, he showed himself to be too inherently conservative, both in playing style and selection.
That Coetzee might be too conservative is not a thought that has suddenly arrived now. We saw him coach the Stormers conservatively over many seasons, and the mindset he is showing at the moment is just a continuation of that.
The reserved support that Coetzee received when he was appointed was attendant on the hope that he’d bring in a heavyweight assistant coach or technical director who boasted experience of successfully coaching the type of rugby that everyone was crying out for.
He hasn’t done that, and perhaps the most disturbing aspect of today’s selection is how far away Coetzee has progressed from tapping into the secret of the Lions success in Super Rugby.
The Lions are the only local team who have come anywhere close to perfecting the new-age rugby approach, yet no one from that franchise is in the management group, and today there is only one Lions player – Warren Whiteley – in the starting team.
Some of the Lions players haven’t done well since graduating to the next level, but you have to ask whether the problem was with them or with the way the message they receive when playing for the Boks differs from the adventurous, no fear approach of their franchise coach, Johan Ackermann.
It’s something to think about. Having only one starter from the one franchise playing the modern game properly just doesn’t make any sense at all.