The Springboks have to embrace a new culture that prizes winning and brutal honesty above all else, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Allister Coetzee has presided over 11 wins in 25 Tests. His record includes inaugural losses to Ireland (home), Argentina (away) and Italy, as well as record drubbings at the hands of the All Blacks, Wales and, most recently, Ireland.
Nick Mallett was fired after complaining about ticket prices. Jake White wasn’t retained after winning the 2007 World Cup because he clashed with SA Rugby officials. How could SA Rugby justify the retention of Coetzee – who has taken the Boks from third to sixth in the world rankings in the space of two years – in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup?
The first 30 minutes of the Springboks’ final tour match, in Cardiff, were a horror show. The Boks plumbed new depths in their high-ball receipts and line defence. Two years after losing to the All Blacks in the World Cup semi-finals after a hopeless showing under the high ball, the Boks haven’t progressed one bit.
Rassie Erasmus can’t take charge of this Springbok group soon enough. Erasmus was appointed director of rugby in November, but will work closely with the national team in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup.
There was no shortage of controversy on the recent tour to Europe. After the 38-3 defeat to Ireland in Dublin, it was alleged that Coetzee had had a heated exchange with SA Rugby president Mark Alexander. In the lead-up to the game against Italy, there was talk that Coetzee had already been in touch with the Canon Eagles about an employment opportunity. Assistant coach Matt Proudfoot was also linked to the Japanese club.
The Springboks lost two assistant coaches after the Test against France in Paris. Lineout coach Johann van Graan joined Munster to take up a head coach post, while defence consultant Brendan Venter returned to South Africa. Both losses were felt by the Boks in the ensuing weeks, and one has to ask why Coetzee favoured Venter in particular, when he knew that the Italy assistant coach was never going to be available for the clash in Padua.
Another obvious question is, who would agree to a situation that sees two coaches – and they are crucial coaches, according to the players who work with them on a daily basis – departing mid-tour?
So much has been made about the Springbok culture in 2017. Coetzee and the players have waxed lyrical about it. They have spoken about a burgeoning brotherhood and how that has shaped the attitude and values of the group.
The results and performances, however, have been mediocre. This shows that something – in terms of leadership, at least – is sorely missing.
I’ve heard it said that not enough of the players challenge the coaches. That didn’t surprise me when I watched the Boks week after week, and when I listened to the platitudes in the aftermath.
The Springboks are not in a good space. Having been on tour with the team for four weeks this past November, I can vouch for the fact that standards are low and that some players have no idea of the severity of the situation.
Perhaps the Springboks need some tough love. Perhaps they need someone to come in and remind them that South Africa is a rugby nation that aspires to greatness, not a nation that looks for excuses after losing to Wales, a team ranked seventh in the world.
Erasmus has his work cut out for him, though.
One would hope he has the strength to shake things up at the Springboks, just as he shook things up at the Stormers in 2008.
What Erasmus brings to the party in the early stages of his tenure may not be pretty, and it may not fit the narrative of what Coetzee has described as a healthy and happy environment.
Ultimately, the Springboks have to make results their priority and realise that the record of 11 from 25 is evidence that Coetzee’s philosophy and culture has failed.
Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Getty Images
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