“They will have to change because they may not have the best coaches and the best players at the moment,” Fitzpatrick told Netwerk24 at a Laureus sports foundation event in Kraaifontein. “You need to get the right coaches and players in place.”
The current coaches and players combined for a 4-8 record in 2016, including historic losses against Ireland, Argentina, New Zealand, Wales and Italy, as the Boks dipped to a team-low sixth place on the World Rugby rankings.
Former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll was also in attendance at the event.
“Those kind of things are said when a team like the Springboks lose a few games in a row,” O’Driscoll said when asked whether the Boks have lost their aura.
“I don’t think the team’s current condition is terminal; this weak cycle won’t be the end of Springbok Rugby. They’ll be back.”
Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll has no doubt that the Springboks will salvage some respect in 2017.
“Though they were in a bad state in 2016, I believe the Springboks will do much better in Allister Coetzee’s second season,” the former Ireland skipper told Netwerk24.
“Sometimes you have to hit the bottom to realize what needs to be done to get back to the level where you were before. There are plenty of quality players in the squad to make them a force in world rugby again.
Rock bottom is what the Boks hit last year. The worst season in team history began with South Africa’s first home loss against Ireland, who played much of the match with 14 men, and finished with milestone defeats against Argentina, New Zealand, Wales and Italy.
“Last season was their most disappointing in a long time, but I’ve got no doubt that they can turn it around, as long as everyone works together,” added O’Driscoll.
It remains to be seen whether ‘everyone’ includes Coetzee. The coach’s future is under a cloud of uncertainty as it remains to be seen whether stakeholders will fund a move to pay for Coetzee’s early exit.
The Boks kick off their season with a three-Test series against touring France in June and, given that Les Bleus finished fifth in last year’s Six Nations, there is reason to expect South Africa will win at least five games in 2017.
“The team’s problems are not terminal,” O’Driscoll said. “The team is going through a difficult time, but it is certainly not the end of Springbok Rugby.”