Once Upon A Time There Was Caution

‘There’s no style about running rugby at Test level.  That’s fairytale stuff.  You have to win.’ – Allister Coetzee, Springbok coach, 1 October 2016.

Allister Coetzee

Photo credit: Gallo Images

This is the kind of thing that South African rugby supporters are unlikely to want to read. Many have called for SA rugby to modernise and implement a more expansive game plan. World champions New Zealand are the undisputed standard bearers in this sport and I have often likened them to football’s Brazil; the team that plays the game the way it is meant to be played.

The Springboks are probably Italy in this comparison. They seldom do it the pretty way, and yes it can be ugly at times, but they are competitive on the world stage and win a few world cups along the way. Perhaps this is just the lot Bok fans will have to accept.

Coetzee’s quote is clearly an expression of his own philosophy and the way he sees the sport. He went on in his post-match press conference following his side’s 18-10 Rugby Championship win over Australia in Pretoria to say he thinks his lot are very good with ball in hand. Perhaps the former Stormers boss is in the minority but he is the man in charge so that is not going to change.

Argentina Los Pumas Facundo Isa

Photo credit: UAR/Rodrigo Vergara

Argentina roped in World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry whose influence is there for all to see. Once upon a time Los Pumas played a more South African-type of rugby. These days the South Americans are New Zealand-like in their approach and it is paying off.

What is is that South Africans most want to see? If the answer is a winning Springbok team regardless of style, then the argument against Coetzee’s stance is futile. If instead it is a question of style then there is no way of experiencing satisfaction until the current coach’s contract ends, or until the suits at the South African Rugby Union run out of patience with him.

What it comes down to is you can fully expect a Bok side that will continue to implement rolling mauls and grind down their opposition three points at a time, with a few drop goals in between courtesy of a kicking flyhalf. Do not expect too much imagination or innovation and you can be certain that the team’s wings will receive the ball hugging the touchline almost every time with very little space to work with.

Can they win the Rugby Championship doing this? Can they win the World Cup in 2019 in Japan? Coetzee clearly believes so.


Photo credit: UAR/Dave Lintott

On the topic of the All Blacks playing fairy tale rugby, I guess I agree. The difference I have with Coetzee on this is that the fairy tale is the reality and maybe the truth is that dreams (or delusions) of a similar style from South Africa is in fact nothing but Sleeping Beauty.