It will be a learning experience all round for South African rugby as Allister Coetzee was confirmed as the new Springbok coach on Tuesday.
Even though Coetzee is probably the most experienced coach to have been given the Springbok job, the 52-year-old said it will still be a time for growth for him, while the players will need to adapt to the many changes in the game, and South African rugby as a whole will have to undergo a mindset change in terms of transformation.
Coetzee, an outstanding scrumhalf, was the captain of the South African non-racial team before unity and played Currie Cup and SuperRugby for Eastern Province from 1992-1996, as well as representing the Junior Springboks.
He then turned his hand to coaching, first as an assistant coach for Eastern Province and then the Sharks. Coetzee coached the Emerging Springboks in 1998 and the SA U23 and SA A sides in 2000, before becoming one of the assistant coaches under Harry Viljoen.
He was Eastern Province head coach from 2001 to 2003, before joining the World Cup-winning management team of Jake White in 2004, alongside Gert Smal. From 2008 he was the head coach of Western Province and then the Stormers from 2010, winning three South African SuperRugby conference titles and two Currie Cups.
“Who is ever ready for this sort of job? I will continue to grow, as I always have, we all grow into something like this. My strength is aligning people, get them working in the same direction. Unity is a massive thing and it’s about how I instil that in the team, in the management and with Saru, as well as giving the country ownership of the team.
“Is Test rugby about entertaining? The big challenge initially will be winning Tests, getting all the boxes ticked before June, we need to get the best 23 players. The game has evolved and so have coaches and it would be really naïve to ignore that. When we embarked on our winning culture with the Stormers, we put teams under pressure through our defence and kicking game, but there’s more than one way of putting teams under pressure, you need attack too.
“It’s about the integration of a balanced game and it took time with the Stormers to not just defend a lead. But it’s great to see the awareness of all the SuperRugby coaches that we need to brush up on attack, it’s about speed of hand, ball and decision-making, and communication skills are vital as well. You can see the SuperRugby coaches are already busy with that,” Coetzee said.
“Transformation is also a reality; it’s not about numbers, it’s about how you think. It wasn’t an issue for me at the Stormers, I didn’t put asterisks down on the team-sheet when I chose the side saying this guy is a player of colour. Rugby has been played in all communities for more than a hundred years, so they all have hopes and it’s about making sure those pathways are open.”
Alongside Coetzee in the chairs at the front of the team photo will be former Springbok Sevens star Mzwandile Stick, who has been appointed as an assistant coach.
“Sticks is a rugby man, the picture of professionalism. He’s a confident guy, he was head coach of the champion Eastern Province U19 team, he’s coached at Currie Cup level and now at Super Rugby as well. He’s got great potential and it’s part of my duty to bring him through,” Coetzee said.
Although the new Springbok coach said he is looking at around 60 players at the moment, he said he would be including about 40 in his planning closer to the three Tests against Ireland in June.