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Ken Borland



Chapter & verse from Coetzee, and then what? 0

Posted on December 10, 2017 by Ken

 

In the next week, national coach Allister Coetzee will have to give chapter and verse on what happened to the Springboks this year to the SA Rugby executive council and if he stays true to his public pronouncements after the loss to Wales, then he will describe his charges as “a side that is on the up” and having “a really healthy team environment”.

Which is nothing but a sop for a South African public that rightly expects top-class performances from their national rugby team. Instead, the Springboks have endured a decidedly mediocre year, without a single rousing victory for Coetzee to rave about at his performance review. Victories over France, Argentina and Italy are not results we would expect the Springboks to boast about, and neither were two draws against a very average Australian side.

The results have been disappointing enough but to add insult to injury, the Springboks are playing such uninspired rugby that it feels like we are back to the most conservative days early on in Heyneke Meyer’s tenure as national coach.

Simply put, the Springboks are not making any progress under Coetzee. In fact, we have seen two more unwanted milestones set this year in record defeats to New Zealand and Ireland.

To put an end to this continued slide into mediocrity, SA Rugby simply have to hold Coetzee accountable and relieve him of his duties as Springbok coach. I had sympathy for him this time last year because he was coaching with one hand tied behind his back, perhaps even being set up to fail, but this year he has been given everything he wanted and even said at the start of the campaign that there were no excuses this year.

In the general public, Rassie Erasmus, freshly back in the post of director of rugby, is seen as the obvious candidate to replace Coetzee and try and rescue South Africa’s hopes for the 2019 World Cup.

But Erasmus has shown little desire to emerge from the shadows, from which he has been strategising, and there seems little doubt that the rumours that Deon Davids of the Southern Kings will be the new Springbok coach have emanated from his office via his usual journalistic channels.

Davids has done wonders with the Kings considering the lack of resources, both in terms of players and finance, and time he has had to deal with, and is highly-rated as a coach. But other players and coaches tell me he would be out of his depth at international level.

I do have a fundamental problem, though, if Davids is appointed to merely be the face of the Springboks with Erasmus making all the big decisions.

The Springbok coach needs to be accountable to the fans and he needs to be regularly available to the media to explain his decisions; something Coetzee and those before him have never shirked. Erasmus cannot be allowed to be pulling the strings and not seen to be answerable for the national team’s performance.

As Springbok coach, Coetzee has made some stupid selections (such as neutralising Eben Etzebeth as an enforcer by making him captain) and has rightly been called to task for them; Erasmus cannot be allowed to operate as a dictatorial figure whose instructions are not open to scrutiny.

The time has come for change, but as in Zimbabwean politics, there are concerns that the change won’t necessarily be for the better. The smooth-talking Erasmus has been able to con a lot of people in recent years, but perhaps now is the time for him to display his rugby acumen in the frontline, under the glare of the television cameras and the beady eye of the fourth estate.

 

Schalk Burger doesn’t tell how to do it, he does it! 0

Posted on July 21, 2015 by Ken

New Springbok captain Schalk Burger is not the sort of leader who will tell his team to run through brick walls; instead, he will run through first and lead the way for his charges.

Burger, who was named as South Africa’s 55th Test captain on Tuesday for the Rugby Championship match at Ellis Park against New Zealand on Saturday, is the epitome of “leading from the front” and one could tell it was a special moment too for Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer when he announced the appointment of the 32-year-old.

“A Springbok captain needs to lead from the front and Schalk’s play speaks for itself. He’s not a big talker but he brings calmness and experience and I’m 100% certain I’ve made the right decision by appointing Schalk. He’s a warrior and a born leader and it just shows that one should never give up on your dreams; he’s an inspiration for the team, for the country and for me,” Meyer said.

Burger himself said he would not be doing too much speaking ahead of the clash against the old foe.

“I’m not going to talk too much, leading from the front is just the way I play. Obviously there’ll be a lot of emotion involved, playing in front of a full house at Ellis Park in one of the games you dream of playing in. I don’t think it will affect my game because, whether I’m captain or not, I have a leadership role in the team. And there’ll be a big group of leaders around me as well on Saturday,” Burger said.

It is actually a surprise that one of the legends of Springbok rugby, someone who has been wearing the Green and Gold since 2003, hasn’t captained the team before, but it is entirely fitting that Burger gets the honour in a match against the All Blacks, the arch-rivals and with whom there is much mutual respect.

“I don’t think the challenge can get any bigger. As a youngster, everything revolves around you playing against the All Blacks, in the wet Cape Town winter, it was always a Test against New Zealand that you were playing. It’s going to be a big responsibility, but I won’t be leading alone, there are other senior players around me. But it’s a big honour which I thought was neusie verby [an opportunity no longer available] for me,” Burger said.

As for Saturday’s Test, Burger said there was much to learn from the Springboks’ last-minute loss last weekend to Australia as well as their 79th-minute win over the All Blacks in the corresponding match at Ellis Park last year.

“You have to play at a high level for 80 minutes against the All Blacks, you have to keep playing. Last week we didn’t consciously take our feet off the pedal, it was just that we couldn’t get any field position in the last 20 minutes. We weren’t as accurate as we wanted to be in that final quarter,” the stand-in captain for Victor Matfield said.

But Burger has seen many disappointments during his career and there are not many players who are better than him at bouncing back from adversity.

There are not many current international players who finished a Test with a broken neck and have returned to the highest level as good a player if not better.

Laureus awards are highly sought-after in the world of sport and Burger richly deserved his for Comeback of the Year having recovered from a life-threatening bout of bacterial meningitis in 2013. He made his return to the Springboks last season after a three-year absence and now he is finally going to lead them out on to the field.

“Obviously when I was that ill, I was just begging to play one more Test. It probably sounds like a fairytale,” Burger said.

As last week’s bitter defeat in Brisbane showed, experienced players and leaders are vital for a successful World Cup campaign and Meyer’s planning has revolved around that.

“I was thinking what if Jean de Villiers can’t make it to the World Cup and then Victor gets injured, so I wanted to give someone a go because I don’t want to appoint a new captain at the World Cup.

“Games in the World Cup will go down to the wire and you have to go to that tournament with experience. The pressure showed in the SuperRugby playoff the Stormers lost and for us in Brisbane in the last 20 minutes.

“I never thought I’d be in this position in a World Cup year, having to use new players and there could be one or two more new caps this week. I always said I wanted everyone to have 30 Tests going into the World Cup, like Eben Etzebeth and Marcell Coetzee do. Having players with 50-60 Tests makes a huge difference and I would love to have that,” Meyer said.

As the coach said, the Springbok captain also needs to be a role-model off the field and in Burger he has one of the most popular and respected people in rugby. Whatever the result on Saturday, there’s no doubt the team would have run through walls for the veteran loose-forward.

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    James 1:5 - "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."

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