Although I would have liked to have seen some big-name overseas input in the management team, in Allister Coetzee the Springboks have a coach who is vastly experienced, has excellent man-management skills and will avoid the transformation pitfalls that plagued his predecessor, which is vital in this country.
Coetzee was a strong contender for the post way back in 2008, but those were the days when Cheeky Watson held powerful sway in South African rugby and the disgraced Eastern Province president was firmly in the Peter de Villiers camp.
In a way, I’m actually quite pleased now that Coetzee did not get the job straight after he had been part of Jake White’s management team that won the World Cup in 2007. The former scrumhalf star has spent the last eight years gaining more and more experience, to the extent that of all the Springbok coaches appointed since 1992, he has the most experience of them all.
Early coaches like John Williams, Ian McIntosh and Kitch Christie had no international background, while Andre Markgraaff and Carel du Plessis had not coached at SuperRugby level. Nick Mallett, Harry Viljoen and Rudolf Straeuli had experience in that competition, but were not part of successful Springbok management teams before their promotion.
White and De Villiers both won the junior world cup but had never been head coach of a SuperRugby franchise, while Heyneke Meyer had success with the Bulls but only a little involvement with Springbok teams.
Critics of Coetzee point to the dour style of rugby he played in making four SuperRugby playoffs, winning the South African Conference three times and claiming two Currie Cup titles, but it’s important to look at that in context.
When he took over an ailing Stormers in 2010, the then laws of the game favoured teams that played territory and could defend well, at times the less ball you had the better. Think of how well the Springboks did around that time and what sort of rugby they played, beating the All Blacks five times between 2008 and 2011.
Of course, as the laws changed, Coetzee said he tried to make sure the Stormers’ play evolved as well, but it was not as easy as just applying a new lick of paint.
Players who have worked with Coetzee – and not just with the Stormers, Fourie du Preez for instance – have the utmost respect for his ability as a coach. The 52-year-old will have the attacking and skills input of Mzwandile Stick, one of the best Sevens players this country has ever produced and obviously a talented coach in his own right given that he steered Eastern Province to the U19 Currie Cup title.
In terms of an overseas appointment, Saru probably don’t have the money and the top overseas names probably don’t have the inclination or the inside knowledge to get involved in the murky politics of our rugby, so local will have to be lekker for now. CEO Jurie Roux said Coetzee is welcome to call in any short-term consultants he requires.
Much has been made of Saru’s goal of making the Springbok team 50% representative by the next World Cup and Coetzee said it shouldn’t be an issue for him. He managed to field a transformed Stormers side and keep winning at the same time.
The talent is there to fulfil any quotas, but if Coetzee does run into problems now and then in terms of balancing his side, at least nobody is going to call him a racist as Watson once tried to imply.
The Springbok coaching reins have undoubtedly been handed to the right man, although an efficient organisation would have given Coetzee much more time to prepare for a tough debut when Ireland come to these shores in June.