Is the BOK coach a talking head and on the road to nowhere ?

In an ideal world we could tear up the script for the Springboks’ 2016 season and push the restart button, with a host of new protagonists on centre stage.

But it is not going to happen and Allister Coetzee and his inexperienced support staff will beat on against the tide, labouring ever more into the eye of the storm.

The question is this. What can the South African Rugby Union do to at least make the passage to the next World Cup steadier, and what can Coetzee himself do, selection-wise, to right the listing ship?

Coetzee said after the weekend’s catastrophe in Christchurch that certain players had not risen to the occasion after a series of opportunities, against Ireland, Argentina, Australia and now New Zealand.

credit -Gallo Images

That is surely the death knell for Elton Jantjies and while Morne Steyn is next in line at flyhalf for the Loftus Versfeld Test against Australia, Coetzee will be tempted to fast-track Patrick Lambie into the squad, at least for a bench spot. It is a just a pity that the Sharks have a bye this weekend, preventing Lambie from building on his comeback against Eastern Province at the weekend after three months of concussion.

Coetzee is faced with a number of selection conundrums as the pressure cooker starts to whistle a haunting tune. Three wins and four losses from seven Tests is a living nightmare for a Springbok coach in the first year of the job.

Considering that he is now picking overseas players with impunity – the call-up of veteran Willem Alberts from France remains a mystery given that South Africa is never short of loose forwards – why not now go the whole hog and refloat Battleship Bismarck?

If Coetzee is looking for a quick fix to get immediate results then he might as well abandon the pretext of leaning towards home-based players, and recall South Africa’s most combative forward, who is setting French rugby on fire at Montpellier.

And Frans Steyn could accompany Du Plessis on the journey from Montpellier. The former Sharks centre (and the youngest ever winner of a World Cup gold medal, at 19, in 2007), is another former Bok in superb form, and heavens knows that No 12 is proving troublesome for Coetzee.

Damian de Allande and latterly Juan de Jongh have both struggled in the vital, play-making position, although to be fair to them, their causes have not been helped by Jantjies being sadly out of form.

In short, if Coetzee is going to select overseas-based players, then go the whole hog and select the best possible team to beat the Wallabies and the All Blacks in the remaining Rugby Championship games. The can of worms is already open; no good shutting the gate now, the Brumbies have already bolted …

At the moment, Coetzee’s selection policy is neither here nor there, pretty much reflecting the Boks’ game plan, But that is a story for another day.

Personally, this writer agrees with what Jake White first said when overseas-based players were first picked by Meyer some years ago: “South African rugby is making a rod for its own back by going this route,” White said. “The Currie Cup and Super Rugby teams will weaken as a result and thus also the base from which the Springbok coach must pick (the majority) of his players.”

Bismarck is world class and would give the Bok pack a physical edge. He would be arguably a short-term fix, as would Steyn, who has rejuvenated his career under White at Montpellier, but at this stage surely any fix will do for the Boks?

As for the Bok coaching staff, if Saru is to continue with Coetzee as coach, and they will, then they need to eat some humble pie and admit that he requires assistance. There is enough of it around. Proud South African rugby men such as Brendan Venter, Nick Mallett, White, Peter de Villiers and Heyneke Meyer would not resist a tug at their patriotic heart-strings if asked to consult to the Boks.

South Africa also has some of the best defence coaches in world rugby. Even bearing in mind how good the All Blacks are on attack, some of the tries conceded by the Boks came down to amateurish defence. Substitute scrumhalf TJ Perenara’s saunter to the Springbok line off the back of a set scrum springs to mind. What about a call to Omar Mouneimne, who sorted out the Sharks’ Super Rugby defence in a jiffy?

Coetzee as head coach is only as good as his backroom staff, and right now Coetzee appears to be a man lost at sea. Saru must wake up and throw him some lifebuoys.

By Mike Greenaway


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