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Rugby | Springboks

Allister Coetzee © BackpagePix

Bok future brighter than many think

Regardless of who their official head coach will be, the challenge facing the Springboks in 2018 will be to get the backline and all-round tactical appreciation of the game up to the same standards as a forward pack that has the potential to be the best in the world.

Incumbent coach Allister Coetzee will arrive home from Wales, where his team suffered its fourth loss of the year at the weekend, to a chorus of calls for him to be replaced. It isn’t that much different from a year ago, but although this time there just may be some light apparent at the end of the tunnel for the Boks, he is less likely to survive.

The fact that the performance clause didn’t click in during the first year saved Coetzee 12 months ago. After promising in the build-up to the 2016 test in Cardiff that he would resign if he didn’t deliver a significantly better Bok success rate if given more planning time and his own management team, he was granted a stay of execution.

Make no mistake, the Boks have been better this year. But that is not really saying much after the miserable 33 percent success rate from last season. Seven wins in 13 matches, which is just over 50%, should not be seen as a significant enough improvement. There were signs of progress in the early months but record defeats against New Zealand and Ireland and the two draws against Australia have meant the Boks failed to kick on after August, which is when they started playing the top ranked teams.

That the Boks came so close to completing a come from behind win over Wales in their last match after being 21-3 down at one stage might hinder Coetzee’s chances of continuing rather than help him. For the Cardiff match highlighted the real problem for his team – they have a tough forward pack that is capable of executing in brutal fashion, but unfortunately the weak points in the rest of the team are too big to enable the Boks to convert what should be rugby’s bottom line.

Selection has been something that Coetzee has been slammed for in the latter parts of the year and sure enough the Welsh capitalised at the Millennium Stadium on his decision to play newcomer Warrick Gelant out of position on the wing. Wales coach Warren Gatland also accurately pinpointed the Bok vulnerabilities by employing a kicking strategy early in the match which, were it not for the dominance of the pack later on, would have left the visitors dead in the water.

You do need to take into consideration that the Welsh pack that played in their 24-22 win in Cardiff was significantly depleted by injury. The hosts were down to their fourth choice tighthead according to some observers. So perhaps we shouldn’t get too carried away by the ease with which the Bok forwards overpowered Wales until a slew of substitutions impacted on the balance later in the game.

However, the Bok forwards have consistently been good, and at times approaching formidable, such as in the narrow loss to the All Blacks in Cape Town in October. Even in the Albany disaster, where the Boks lost 57-0, the South African big men bossed the early physical exchanges. If you have a pack like that, it should be relatively easy to transform the side into one that can consistently challenge the teams near the top of the world rankings. The Boks did not beat a top five ranked team in 2017.

The question that hung in the air after the Cardiff game was how the Boks could have only managed seven wins in 13 starts with such a strong pack. It is true that Australia escaped with two draws, results that would have made a significant difference to Coetzee’s chances of continuing into 2018, by being cunning in the forward battle. But that really is the point. The Boks need to be injected with more cunning, they need to start winning the tactical battles against the better teams instead of losing them.

As was the case 12 months ago, there has been a lot of speculation about Coetzee’s future and who will replace him. While the predictions that Saturday might have been the end of Coetzee era may not be wide of the mark, some of the speculation about his likely replacement has been fanciful.

Southern Kings coach Deon Davids may be on the radar in a few years from now but he is most emphatically not in the frame now, and the theory that former Bok coach Peter de Villiers will be part of the management going forward was probably spawned by a spelling mistake. Former French prop and Bok scrum coach Pieter de Villiers has an ‘i’ in his first name.

What we do know for sure, and this will be a positive for the Boks, is that regardless of whether Coetzee retains the title of coach in 2018, Rassie Erasmus, in his position as national director of rugby, will be the chief honcho going forward. The smart money should be on Erasmus coaching the team himself as he is ready for that after his stint with Munster, but even if he doesn’t, he will have his imprint on the team.

That being so, and with such a formidable pack at his disposal, the Bok future might be a lot brighter than many think and don’t bet against the South Africans pulling off the sort of convincing turn-around that England managed after their 2015 World Cup disaster.


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