What? In SA we don’t even know who the Springbok coach will be this Christmas. The All Blacks are already four World Cups ahead of us in their planning. It’s like going on to the battlefield with swords and shields while NZ comes armed with Apache helicopters, laser-guided artillery and Terminators.
Allister Coetzee has dallied for long enough without so much as a hint that the Boks can cope with the demands of modern Test rugby. He will become the first Bok coach since Harry Viljoen to be axed during a World Cup cycle, after two seasons of woeful results. There is no other option.
Forget about four wins over an impotent France and two wins against a Pumas team in such desperate decline that they make the Springboks look positively Kiwi-esque.
Thrashings by the All Blacks and Ireland are the real picture of where the Boks are, and the image is a bleak one. The Boks are barely hanging on to tier-one status. Coetzee has gone as far as he can go with this team.
But that doesn’t mean finding a replacement will be easy. SA Rugby needs to target the best man for the job while identifying the best fit to work with re-appointed director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus.
And that generally means someone who says things like: ‘crucket on the wucket’. New Zealand are the best rugby nation on earth because they have the best coaches. So it stands to reason that the likes of Vern Cotter, Dave Rennie, Robbie Deans, and hell, even the wacky, break-dancing, Scott Robertson, have to be considered for the Bok coaching job. Of course, one or more of those men are probably part of the All Blacks’ 2031 plan, which muddies the waters.
Insisting on a South African Springbok coach is an out-dated criteria and also limits options to one candidate – Jake White (disclaimer: I penned his 2007 autobiography and he is a columnist for this website).
Forget about Johan Ackermann, the Bok job will eat him alive because he doesn’t have the street smarts to survive it – yet. His time might come, but it’s not now.
White has the credentials, experience and understanding of the demands of the job. Most importantly there isn’t a coach alive who has the same unshakeable belief that SA Rugby players are the best in the world, however outlandish that outlook appears at the moment.
But he won’t be considered because he is demanding and curt, passionate and scornful of amateur officials who fester and pollute the SA game with their self-serving agendas. White calls them out and lets them know what he thinks of their ‘contribution’ to rugby. It’s not flattering and they can’t handle his blunt assessment of their value, and his refusal to bend to their whims, so it’s a waste of time dwelling on the possibility he will be recalled.
Which brings us back to where we started. Trying to identify Coetzee’s successor creates a new challenge without necessary solving the current problems.
Rassie Erasmus is returning to be director of rugby and is unlikely to be appointed as ‘Springbok coach’ unless it is some sort of two-year interim job – another unlikely scenario. Erasmus has returned to overhaul SA’s coaching pathways, player management, talent identification, playing style and contractual issues. It’s a vital role that needs seeing through for the long-term benefit of SA Rugby.
Jacques Nienaber, the defensive Gandalf, has also returned. He will plan that aspect of the Boks’ future regardless of who the new coach is. Nienaber hasn’t left a cushy job in Ireland because he misses lovingly seared boerewors, and to run coaching clinics at the Valke (although that will be a small part of his job). He is back to shore up what has been a generally leaky defence.
Every major RWC 2019 contender is growing depth behind a settled ‘first XV’ at this stage of the cycle. Ireland, NZ, Scotland, England, Wales and even Australia know what their best team looks like.
In SA we can’t even decide if Pieter-Steph du Toit is a lock or a flank, or whether we want to play a roaming No 8 such as Warren Whiteley, or a direct, blunt weapon a la Duane Vermeulen.
The Springboks are at a precipice, which if they plunge off, could signal the end of their status as a preeminent rugby nation.
Decisions made in the coming months are vital to maintaining SA’s dwindling place among the elite of world rugby. Fixing the Boks is the most crucial aspect to achieving that outcome, because at this rate of decline, SA won’t even qualify for RWC 2031.