Humbling losses, unwanted Springbok records condemn Coetzee

by David LEGGE South Africa coach Allister Coetzee began and ended a troubled two-year reign with embarrassing losses, and created a string of unwanted records in between.

The 54-year-old left his post by mutual agreement Friday after winning 11 Tests, drawing two and losing 12 while in charge of a country that have fallen on hard times after winning the Rugby World Cup twice.

His removal was no surprise after the public and media implored national body SA Rugby for months to axe the former provincial scrum-half and Western Stormers Super Rugby coach.

Coetzee, the second black coach of the Springboks after Peter de Villiers, was often referred to as a “dead man walking” in headlines leading up to his dismissal.

It was not just the results that counted against him, but an unstructured style of rugby that never caught the imagination in one of the most passionate rugby nations.

Coetzee wanted to abandon the traditional South African kick-and-chase approach for the ball-in-hand ways of age-old rivals New Zealand.

But too many Springboks regularly resembled rabbits caught in the  headlights — seemingly unsure what they were supposed to be doing.

The coach had insisted he and his team were on the right track ahead of the 2019 World Cup in Japan, but a 44-percent win rate was unacceptably low.

His reign began in June 2016 with a home fixture against Ireland, a nation who had lost every previous game in South Africa.

But despite playing more than half the match a man short, the Irish triumphed in Cape Town. 

Rattled South Africa recovered to overcome Ireland narrowly in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth and achieve an unconvincing 2-1 series success.

– All Black thrashings -An equally unimpressive home win over Argentina at the start of the Rugby Championship gave Coetzee a third win in four outings, but critics warned that dark days lay ahead.

Just how dark no one could have foreseen, though, with the Springboks losing seven of their remaining eight internationals that year, and being held by a makeshift Barbarians side in London.

Reigning world champions New Zealand romped to a 57-15 victory in Durban — the heaviest home loss suffered by South Africa in more than a century of Tests.

Falling away to European minnows Italy, even if the margin was only two points, was no less humiliating for shell-shocked South African supporters.

A drubbing in Wales rounded off the worst 12 months in Springbok history with eight defeats a calendar-year record for the green and gold.

As the public and media bayed for blood, Coetzee said he had insufficent pre-season preparation time and his assistant coaches were imposed on him.

He got his pre-season camps last year, a reshuffle gave him the coaches he wanted, and the Test results did improve with seven victories, two draws and four losses.

In the matches that really counted, though, Coetzee and his team were cruelly exposed, most noticeably during a 57-0 thrashing by New Zealand in Auckland.

It was a sign of the times that a one-point defeat by the All Blacks in the return match in Cape Town was treated as a “victory”.

Coetzee then headed to Europe for his second end-of-season tour knowing four Test victories could muzzle his critics.

But the Springboks crumbled to Ireland and, after wins over France and Italy, came a 24-22 defeat to a second-string Wales.

Stand-in skipper Eben Etzebeth defiantly backed Coetzee, saying the critics “did not know what they were talking about”.

Mark Keohane, a former Springboks media manager and the staunchest critic of Coetzee, saw it differently.

“Allister Coetzee has never been among the 10 best rugby coaches in the world and, therefore, should not have been considered for the Springboks post,” he wrote. DM


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