Springbok coach Allister Coetzee returned to Johannesburg on Monday and said he would accept it if the South African Rugby Union decided to remove him from his post as long as it was part of an all-encompassing review of South African rugby.
Coetzee and the team returned from what the coach termed a “disastrous” tour of Europe without a win, leaving them with just four victories in 12 Tests this year, the worst record since the Springboks lost seven of their eight Tests in 1965.
“In one word, the tour was disastrous. But on the other hand, sometimes you have to go as low as you can go in order to get back up again and I still see a massive opportunity for this team. But we cannot plaster over the cracks, there has to be a proper clean-out of the wounds. There will have to be changes.
“I will be the first to put my hand up and take responsibility, and the players have owned up too, but finger-pointing doesn’t help. We need a good, proper review that addresses all the key areas. My vision and the players’ vision and the franchises’ visions all have to be aligned so that Springbok rugby is of number one importance.
“I am contracted until 2019, and my performance will be discussed in my review. Of course I am disappointed in my performance too. But every coach goes through a tough year and I would rather take it at the beginning. We might not see it now, but this is best for Springbok rugby, I see it as a turning point and if the time is not right for me to be coach, then I will accept that,” Coetzee said at OR Tambo International Airport on Monday.
While Coetzee said he did not want to single out the players, he said poor skill levels and conditioning were the major problems in terms of on-field performance.
The 53-year-old coach also said the pipeline leading to the Springboks, which has previously been the envy of other countries, needed to be streamlined.
“From the schools, through the U21s, all the way to the Springboks, we need to have a hard look at the pipeline. Does it all benefit Springbok rugby? We need to work together as South Africans, doing well in just the Currie Cup or Super Rugby is not good enough.
“The northern hemisphere are doing very well now, it’s no longer the case that we are better than them because they have immense collaboration. It’s the same with the franchises in New Zealand and that’s indicative of where they are now. Collaboration is most important.
“Everyone involved in rugby needs to start working on the 10 most important things to get the Springbok team to perform and put those in place. I have a good idea of what I want to put in place and I’d like to make sure when I leave the post that there is a clear and tangible blueprint for collaboration with the franchise coaches on how we contract players and what we expect from them in terms of conditioning,” Coetzee said.
Retiring captain Adriaan Strauss was similarly apologetic, but said he felt positive that the Springboks would rise again.
“There’s a lot of talent and good players even though it has been a disappointing, challenging year. We’re not in a good space at the moment, and there have been a lot of causes over some time, but I believe it is a good time to address those now. There are a lot of things that have not been spoken openly about before and it has to be a joint effort now to sort those out.
“There are a lot of good decisions and discussions to be made and I believe some good will come out of this. We need to construct a way forward and everyone is accountable from the players up all through the ladder. Everyone has to work together, we need to realise where we are now and make the right decisions now so we can build for the future. I’m very hopeful of the future, there’s lots to be excited about,” Strauss said.
“The year hurts in the way that we feel we have let people down and the supporters have every right to feel let down. But every guy who wears this blazer does their all, they do everything in their power. The Springboks are supposed to be up there with the best, the fans are fully within their rights to demand that, and we haven’t produced that excellence.
“I accepted responsibility when I said yes to the captaincy and it was not the best of years, in fact the records will show it was the worst. I made a lot of mistakes and I apologise for that, it was a learning curve for me. But I’m also proud of a lot of things I did, I always put the Springboks first and in tough times I feel I stood up,” an emotional Strauss said.
“The players must also take responsibility and the coaches as well, we’re all in this together, and SA Rugby as well. I can openly and honestly say that everyone must step up, everyone has made mistakes. We are all responsible and we must all face up together. We can’t be having a pity party.”
While the torment is over for Strauss, coach Coetzee will pray he never has another year like 2016.
“It does test everything as a person, even my faith. But I am still alive and kicking through the grace of God. You do have doubts when things don’t go right, but I believed in my plan and then you feel better when the players and captain give you buy-in every Monday when we start training again,” Coetzee said.
“I can understand the supporters are disappointed, so are we. Many people feel I should stay on and I am confident that I can turn the team around. I’m not the sort of guy to just walk away.”