South Africa, Sport

The Paper Round: The trials and tribulations of Allister Coetzee, redux

By Antoinette Muller 6 December 2016

The poor old bugger just can’t catch a break. Even with the season well and truly over and with the decision on his future only set to be made officially next week, Allister Coetzee is still the man in the spotlight for all that is apparently wrong with the Springboks. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

Oh, you thought the discussion round what the hell to do with the Springbok management staff was over? Funny one! Fact is, until the South African Rugby Union meets with Allister Coetzee next week, we’re in for a fat lot of speculation and opinion, so let’s get straight into it, shall we?

Rapport speculated that broadcast partner SuperSport might ride to the rescue of SA Rugby and help the governing body buy Coetzee out of his contract which will, reportedly, cost a cool R13-million. Things then turned into a bit of a he-said, she-said with SuperSport denying this to Sport24. The candidate tipped to be on SA Rugby’s radar – Chiefs coach Dave Rennie – also denied that he was being linked with the gig. But denial is the first step in acceptance, is it not? The publication has been right on speculation before and considering the process is very much an HR matter, nobody is going to be stupid enough to blurt out anything to the press.

Over on, Jacques van der Westhuizen speculates that Coetzee might very well stay on, but get to decide who he wants on his management staff.

It wouldn’t be the worst move; he’s surrounding himself with people he knows and trusts and can bounce ideas off.

What is crucial, though, whoever’s part of the coaching staff next year, is that the players get backed and built up to the extent that the 2016 season is forgotten as quickly as possible,” he writes.

This is an idea that has been flouted before, but even getting rid of Johann van Graan and Mwzandile Stick won’t be cheap. Stick is a new appointment while Van Graan had his contract renewed when Heyneke Meyer called it a day. It will, undoubtedly, be cheaper than getting rid of Coetzee, though. Swings and roundabouts, as they say.

Over at City Press, Simnikiwe Xabanisa spins a great yarn about the time his boss asked him to go and knock on Jake White’s door after the Boks were beaten 49-0 by Australia. The story goes like this:

White, who had a post-match function to attend, was in the process of getting into his number ones when he opened the door. Naked from the waist up, he looked like a prize fighter, which made me even more nervous as I already dreaded asking the question.

His answer to the pointed query was as confrontational as he looked: ‘What? And watch someone else go on to win the World Cup with my fucking team next year?’”

Xabanisa says that Coetzee’s “hell no, I won’t go” response was a slightly more passive, media trained answer to the same question last week. The difference, of course, is that Coetzee’s record in charge of the national side so far isn’t nearly the same as White’s was at the time. And while we’ve probably bored you senseless with how what has happened to the Boks isn’t exactly Coetzee’s fault alone, the question we have to ask again is whether the style of play the former Stormers’ boss brings to the table is really the solution SA Rugby wants?

Changing the DNA that has been embedded in the system will take years, but as Johan Ackermann showed with the Lions, it’s not impossible. The thing is, Coetzee does not play that way. He never did when he was with the Stormers and there’s no way in hell he’s going to manage that with a group of players he spends a fraction of the amount of time with.

On, Gavin Rich says his sources tell him Coetzee will be given the boot. “Just what SA Rugby will do depends on who you talk to, which is why you might get different impressions on what is going to happen depending on who you read. I am hearing that Allister Coetzee is gone,” he writes.

Rich does have some sympathy for the man, pointing out, as many before him have: “Being appointed exactly two months before the first test match against Ireland, where Coetzee was pitted against one of the world’s cleverest coaches in Joe Schmidt and a comparatively more settled team, had the effect of cutting Coetzee’s legs off at the knees.”

And he also says that in a personal conversation with Coetzee, he was told that if the coach could do it all over again, he would do it differently and try to focus his team more on a Lions’ approach. There were smatterings of that against Ireland, briefly, but what’s that saying about old dogs and new tricks?

Unfortunately, Coetzee has merely become the proxy for all that is wrong with the entire system. Even more unfortunately for him, given his track record both domestically and internationally, it’s very hard to believe that he will be able to single-handedly initiate change.

Whatever SA Rugby decides to do with their embattled coach and his backroom bandits, it is critical that they manage the process properly. Yes, the results have been unacceptable, but they cannot go around willy-nilly, blaming it on one man and calling for performance reviews in a public relations offensive. There is no better time for introspection and acknowledgement that the system is completely borked.

It’s all a bit of a mess. But hey, at least we have the Blitzboks. And if their performances are anything to go by, perhaps they should be invited to the next indaba. DM

Photo: Allister Coetzee, coach of South Africa during the 2016 The Castle Lager Rugby Championship South Africa Team Announcement at Kashmir Restaurant, Umhlanga, South Africa on 06 October 2016 ©Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix