Changes in South African Rugby

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South Africa head coach Allister Coetzee before the Autumn International match at the Principality Stadium, Cardiff. (Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images)

There have been a number of changes announced in South African Rugby recently. We take a look at a few of the most important changes.

Changes in South African Rugby

Springbok Coaching Team

The final member of the Springbok coaching team is yet to be announced and once the new Defense Coach is revealed Last Word on Rugby will be providing a more detailed analysis of the full coaching team. In the interim we can outline what the changes have been.

Allister Coetzee retains the Head Coach role, with the incoming French tour being regarded as his final opportunity to prove that he is the man for the job.  Johann van Graan remains as the Forwards Coach and Franco Smith (Cheetahs Head Coach) is formally appointed as the Attack and Back Line Coach. Mzwandile Stick leaves the Springbok coaching group and joins the Under 20 group as a Back Line Coach under new Under 20 Head Coach Chean Roux.

Collaboration Between Super Rugby Coaches

This has been a major step forward on the South African scene. The Super Rugby coaches have now had three workshops with Coetzee, aimed at establishing common coaching structures. The intent is not to replicate a similar pattern of play across the Super Rugby teams, but rather to have a similar focus on skills development as well as fitness conditioning.

Selecting Overseas Based Players

SARU’s original ruling was that players plying their trade offshore were excluded from Springbok selection. This was then changed to allow the Springbok coach to select whoever he chose to, as long as the transformation targets were met.

This has now been amended and a minimum Test cap requirement has been adopted. Overseas players can only be selected for the Springboks if they have 30 Springbok caps under the belt. Thirty caps is more than fair as this represents around three years worth of continuous selection for the national side. South African Rugby has a serious problem retaining players in national structures due to a weak currency as well as diminishing gate takings, so the minimum cap requirement should be seen as a fair compromise.

The Springbok Captain

At the end of 2016, Adriaan Strauss announced that he would be retiring from international rugby. This leaves Coetzee with a real conundrum. The Springbok captain should ideally be based in South Africa and not playing overseas. This is no misplaced sense of pride or issue of player loyalty. The Springbok captain should be part of the group of players attending the three Springbok camps taking place during the Super Rugby season, gaining the confidence o the player group as a leader. Selecting an overseas based player as captain would have two down sides. Firstly, not being part of the camps would mean that the captain would have to play catch up with the team that have already been in camp together. Your captain should be a leader in the camp. Secondly, the Springbok captain does have a role to play in terms of marketing the Springbok brand as well as being available for appearances and interviews.

If we take a look at the extended Springbok training group, we have to appreciate that this group is relatively inexperienced and there are no obvious picks for the captaincy. Some are calling for Lions skipper Warren Whiteley to assume the mantle, but it remains to be seen if Coetzee regards him as an automatic selection in his position. Others would like to see Stormers prop Frans Malherbe take the captain’s armband, but he has been playing off the bench recently.

It is possible that we are going to see a left field belter coming at us when the playing squad for the Incoming Tour by the French is announced.

Changes to Currie Cup

Moving away from all things Springboks, SARU have also decided to return to what they call a “strength versus strength” competition.

The Toyota Free State Cheetahs, Xerox Golden Lions, DHL Western Province, Cell C Sharks, Vodacom Blue Bulls, Tafel Lager Griquas and Steval Pumas will all play in the Premier Division of the Currie Cup.

Boland, Down Touch Griffons, Hino Valke, Leopards, Eastern Province, Border, SWD Eagles and Weltwitschias from Namibia will play in the First Division of the Currie Cup.

Hopefully, this make the Currie Cup relevant once again. The qualifying series that preempted the 2016 Currie Cup drew no interest as the teams who had a Super Rugby franchise were guaranteed automatic qualification anyway. It was the “best of the rest” who had to fight it out for a place in the Premier Division.

What has not revealed though is the elephant in the room — what of the Kings? Consigning them to the First Division, therefore making them even more unmarketable, is an indication that SARU is possibly planning for the inevitable. The withdrawal of the Kings from Super Rugby in 2018, along with the Western Force if recent rumblings are to be believed. How SARU handle this politically should be very interesting to observe, especially if they are forced to terminate Coetzee’s contract.

A lot of change happening in a short space of time. Let’s wait and see if it takes the game in South Africa forward.
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