Critical Thoughts on Allister Coetzee

In this post-World Cup year, the Springboks once and for all need to tackle a brave new world of attacking rugby and I am not certain that Allister Coetzee is the right man for the task.

I think Allister is an incredibly experienced and competent coach (21 years now with the whistle after 22 years as aplayer), and in 2008, I could not understand why he was not the successor to Jake White.

Coetzee had spent eight years as Jake’s assistant on the way to winning the 2007 World Cup and when for reasons best know to the governing body at the time, Jake was persona non grata, it made so much sense to give the reins to Allister.

There would have been a seamless transition from White to Coetzee. But apparently this made too much sense, and we thus had Peter de Villiers trust on us. Instead of Coetzee, the man nick-named Toetie, we got De Villiers, a maverick who liked to talk about tutus in never-dull press conferences that had media men queuing for front row seats.

We should also remember that Heyneke Meyer was chomping at the bit for the Springbok job in 2008, only to join Coetzee on the list of also-rans. The choice of De Villiers over Coetzee and Meyer is quite possibly the Eighth Wonder of the World.

So Coetzee lost out, De Villiers did incredibly well, results-wise, thanks to the most experienced squad of players in Springbok rugby history led by supremely wise men in John Smit, Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez.

Then Meyer finally got his chance, and the workaholic former Bulls man must lie awake at night and ponder how close he came to cracking it once and for all for the Springboks.

Midway through Meyer’s tenure, the Boks began playing some of their finest rugby ever. Meyer was determined to add floursishing attack to resolute defence, and he was getting there. Who will forget those epic games at Ellis Park between the Boks and the All Blacks, where the only difference between the sides in the end was the superior fitness of the Kiwis.

If only Meyer had stuck to those guns. But he had two problems. Firstly he had gun to his head in that South African rugby is results driven and, secondly, he knew he would be judged on the World Cup.

If I might digress for a minute. Compare this to what is going on at the Golden Lions in Johannesburg. Johan Ackerman has been given a mandate to fix the Lions and to do whatever it takes over as long a period as it takes. And he has passed this freedom on to the players. Don’t worry about results, just attack, attack and attack. Play with passion and the results will eventually take care of themselves.

If only Meyer had had the same passport of freedom. He had the Boks on the path to becoming the best team in the world, indeed capable of beating the All Blacks at their own game, but then regressed to square one when the pressure to get results got too much. Nobody can blame Meyer. If only he had been told to continue playing positively into the 2015 World Cup with a view to winning the trophy in Japan in 2019.

So can Allister pick up where the Boks left off when in their attack phase under Heyneke? Heck does anybody recall the fantastic tries the Boks scored a few months before the England World Cup in Brisbane and Johannesburg? Possibly, but we all recall the Boks going back to medieval rugby in the tournament after losing to Japan, grinding out victories based on the kick-and-chase game.

My problem with Allister is that he could get the Stormers and Western Province to play an attacking game. He did extremely well to get the Stormers to a certain level, one where their defence was the best in Super Rugby for a number of seasons and their set pieces immaculate. But they could not score tries. For three years or so the Stormers plateau-ed out, unable to take the step up to mix it in the Super Rugby play-offs. They just did not have the attacking game to win the tournament.

So what will change when Coetzee takes over at the Boks on Tuesday?

by MIKE Greenaway

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