Who is to blame for Bok demise?

Mon, 21 Nov 2016 11:51

OPINION: Jan de Koning looks into the background of what is really behind the Springboks' dramatic fall from grace this year.

It is easy to point the finger at Allister Coetzee and make the Springbok coach the scapegoat.

And to some extent, Coetzee is a BIG part of the problem in a year that has so far produced just four wins in 11 Tests - all of them at home (36 percent success rate).

There is no doubt Coetzee's questionable selections and gameplan are contributing to a situation where the Boks have the 'aura' of a second-rate minnow.

Coetzee has been more 'reactive' as a coach, rather than being proactive.

Just like predecessor Heyneke Meyer, the reliance on 30-someting players he previously coached - in his case mostly based abroad - has come back to haunt him. His denial that his game plan is outdated is another bane for those still passionate about the Boks.

However, he is not the only problem and in my view, not the biggest problem. It is a culmination of many ills that have burst open like a festering boil.

I truly feel the bigger problem is systematic, rather than symptomatic.

It is not something that started this year. It is the result of ongoing administrative malfunctioning over many years and has affected numerous previous coaches - in some cases costing them their jobs.

The axes are being sharpened as we speak. There is no doubt about that.

South African Rugby Union President Mark Alexander, without openly laying blame at the door of Coetzee, confirmed that they will undertake a 'full review' and consider what interventions may be needed to turn things around.

"We have a Test against Wales on Saturday and then we will review the season and spend time determining a path for the future," Alexander said.

While the SARU boss' carefully worded statement did not directly say anything about Coetzee's future, we have enough examples of coaches being fired (or faxed, as Ian McIntosh was in the wake of the 1994 tour of New Zealand) despite claims to the contrary.

However, the question we have to ask is: 'If we replace Allister Coetzee as Springbok coach, will that solve all the problems?'

The answer to that is a very emphatic NO!

Is there an obvious successor?

There are a few candidates - more enlightened coaches like Johan Ackermann and Franco Smith.

However, they will be faced with the same administrative counterproductive issues that have hamstrung Coetzee (and his predecessors).

Let us look at just one situation from this past weekend - the role of Brendan Venter in the recent coaching indaba and his presence in Florence this past weekend as an 'advisor' to the Azzurri.

Given that Venter is a confidant of Coetzee, why was he only approached - to join the Springboks on tour - two weeks before the team's departure?

The same administrative bungling can be found in the compromises made to finalise Coetzee's support staff.
    
Coetzee - who was only appointed in April - wanted trusted assistants like Matthew Proudfoot and Robbie Fleck. SARU wanted the coach to groom an 'African black' as the next coach.

The compromise was a situation that resulted in the highly publicised SOS being sent to SARU for additional assistance after the team's obvious weaknesses were exposed in the narrow series win over Ireland in June.

Mzwandile Stick - with some success at domestic age group level and very limited experience at senior provincial and Super Rugby level - was foisted on Coetzee.

Yes, Coetzee should have put his foot down and avoided the untenable situation. But if he wanted the job - and who doesn't want to coach the Springboks - he had little choice but to accept the SARU compromise that was all about political gratification.

Whoever takes over from Coetzee - when he eventually departs - will have the same targets (quotas) and management compromises foisted upon him.

SARU's contract (that is what both SARU and the minister of sport called the agreement) demands that by 2019 the Bok team must consist of 50 percent black players and management members.

While World Rugby continues to turn a blind eye to such political meddling, illegal as it is according to World Rugby and the International Olympic Committee's constitution, 'transformation' will remain the main objective of the national team.

This doesn't mean there aren't enough black (non-white) talent in the country. They just need to be nurtured and properly groomed.

Transformation from the top down - as the government demands - is NEVER going to work.

Whether it is players or management, they all need to be guided properly and introduced to international rugby when ready.

That will avoid the nasty 'quota' tags being added to every non-white player and official in the current squad.

The well-documented squabbles at SARU headquarters between the previous President, Oregan Hoskins, and CEO Jurie Roux is another of the many examples that too much time is wasted on fighting personal agendas, rather than planning to make the Springboks the best team in the world.

Current President, Mark Alexander, has so far made the right noises. The jury is still out on him.

However, there is no quick fix for South African rugby or the national team.

Until SARU is administratively sound, expect the Bok reputation to continue taking a beating - whether Coetzee is the coach or somebody else is placed there as a readymade scapegoat.

By Jan de Koning
@king365ed
@rugby365com