Stick will be a top coach ... some day
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Springbok head coach Allister Coetzee has backed under fire backline coach Mzwandile Stick to come good - eventually.
Coetzee himself has pinpointed attack and defence as two key areas of concern, following a poor start to his tenure - which has seen the Boks slumped to five defeats in nine Tests.
In the wake of the recent coaches indaba in Cape Town, Cheetahs coach Franco Smith and Lions defence expert JP Ferreira have been added to Coetzee's management team.
Chean Roux, who was in charge of the national team's defensive structures, has returned to a role at the South African Rugby Union headquarters.
However, questions have been raised as to why Stick - seen as a 'transformation appointment' - have been retained in such a prominent role.
Coetzee, addressing a media briefing in London ahead of the team's opening year-end tour match, tip-toed his way around the vexed issue of transformation and Stick's appointment.
"[Mzwandile] Stick has done very well at Under-19 level," said, when asked pointedly exactly what it is that Stick brings to the table.
"He won the [Under-19] interprovincial title with very limited resources at the Eastern Province Kings. He was head coach there [of the Under-19 team]. He also coached at Currie Cup and Super Rugby level [with the EP and Southern Kings]."
Coetzee admitted the 32-year-old former South African Sevens player is a "young coach", but felt that "everyone has to start somewhere".
"Maybe you would say this [international matches] is not the entry level," he told the media gathering, ahead of Saturday's non-cap international against the Barbarians at the Wembley Stadium.
"However, if surrounded with the right people, I am sure Mzwandile will become a top coach," Coetzee said, adding: "Without a doubt he is confident.
"He understands the game, he has played international Sevens.
"If you look at any other young coaches, they also get that break. I think that is a break he deserves.
"He might not be the most experienced coach at the moment, but surely he will become a good coach."
When asked if he would ever have appointed Stick himself, Coetzee gave the question a brilliant sidestep.
"I was appointed in March only," he said, adding: "It was a challenge for me, being appointed so late. For any coach it would be tough to get things going two months before the first Test.
"However, we have improved a hell-of-a-lot as a management team.
"We had to plug holes and the Super Rugby coaches were all busy. After our indaba, we got the buy-in of the coaches and therefore I got Franco Smith from the Cheetahs and JP Ferreira from the Lions.
"I am happy with where we are."
Coetzee was equally masterful in avoiding the pitfalls that come with the loaded question of having to fulfil the government's quota demands.
"One thing is for sure, our country has its own challenges," Coetzee said, adding that South Africans understand those challenges.
However, he said hey see it as a "great opportunity, rather than a problem".
"This is who we are, it is our DNA. We are a nation that has always, in tough times, stood together and came out on top.
"There will be a way and a will to get it right. The [recent] rugby indaba was the start of turning it around.
"We all agreed on the things we can fix and control. There will be more long-term benefits than in the short term."
Coetzee called for "patience" to overcome the "challenges" facing his team.
"It is unique to our country, but - as I have said - we see it as an opportunity, rather than a millstone around the neck."