What Will SARU Do Next?

I would dearly love to take credit for it but that would just be arrogant and besides, others have contributed and then there is also the off-chance that perhaps maybe, just maybe, common sense has actually prevailed.  Pete, what are you talking about?  Heyneke Meyer seems unlikely to be offered a new Springbok coaching deal!  Allister Coetzee is set to take over from the former Bulls boss.  None of this is confirmed but when it comes from the usually reliable corridors then you kind of know it is coming.

Let us assume that the South Africa Rugby Union (SARU) makes the logical choice when its Executive Council (Exco) meets on Friday.  That is not to renew Meyer’s contract.  Before I continue let us briefly review the Springbok coach’s four-year tenure:

  • 0 Trophies
  • 1 win in eight attempts against New Zealand
  • A first-ever defeat to Argentina
  • A defeat to Japan at the Rugby World Cup
  • Six defeats in his last 12 Tests – with three of the wins coming against Scotland, the United States of America and Argentina’s “B teams”
  • Questionable record on transformation

On the last point there are those who point out that Meyer actually did better on this front than his predecessor.  Perhaps, but any man who sees fit to play a centre (Jesse Kriel) ahead of a fit specialist (Lwazi Mvovo) at wing(!) and a lock (Pieter-Steph Du Toit) instead of a healthy specialist (Siya Kolisi) at flank(!) has to have his methods re-examined.  On the first point it must be remembered that in rugby South Africa is like a Germany or Italy in football.  Trophies are expected to be won at all times and the only reason glory is not achieved is because of the existence of a Brazil, or New Zealand in this case.

Meyer has had his four years and it has not worked out.

There is an old adage that you should be careful what you wish for.  You know how the rest goes and dare I say if SARU opts to indeed offer Coetzee the post, it opens an entirely new can of worms.  Let us peruse through the former Stormers coach’s CV.

He has served as part of the Bok coaching staff on two previous occasions, notably as Jake White’s backline coach from 2004-2007.  A World Cup winner, you might say!  Do not forget the South Africans were actually quite poor in 2006 and 07 after the rest of the world worked out what White and his assistants’ strategy was.  It took one Eddie Jones (you might have heard of him) to reinvigorate the Bok backline ahead of that 07 World Cup triumph.

Coetzee has also served as a national selector before joining Western Province/Stormers in 2008.  He coached Province to Currie Cup glory in 2012 and 2014 while also achieving relative success with the Super Rugby franchise, falling short in the play-off stages on a regular basis.  The sore point is that under Coetzee, the Cape Town side became the ugliest team in the competition. 

In 2011 Cape fans celebrated their side topping the South African Conference.  In 18 outings the Stormers scored four tries or more four times and boasted the tournament’s second-best defence.  Coetzee’s side finished second overall (like in 2010) but would disappointingly go down in a home semi-final against the Crusaders.   They topped the SA Conference again in 2012 but also the overall log this time.  Coetzee’s side boasted the best defence.  However the signs of a considerably more conservative approach started to show with the team failing to score four or more tries at any stage of the season preferring rolling mauls and forcing the opponent into errors and kicking the resultant penalty.  Coetzee would argue the tactic was successful until his side went down in another home semi-final. 

By 2013 the chickens had come home to roost.  The Stormers managed just one bonus point for scoring four tries or more but significantly the other teams were suddenly matching Coetzee’s men who had become so predictable and easy to combat.  The Cape franchise missed out on the play-offs.

I have interacted with Coetzee on several occasions and he is a very likeable man and a thorough gentleman.  If he were to be made Bok coach I would wish him nothing of the best.  However SARU needs to explain the thinking behind a new coaching appointment.  If it is for the sake of changing the face of the man in charge, then by all means go with “Toetie”.  If it is with an eye to changing the way South Africa plays to a more expansive pattern, then perhaps the Exco needs to look elsewhere.