Springboks Poor Performance Against Ireland Could See the End of Coetzee

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Dublin , Ireland - 9 November 2017; Head coach Allister Coetzee during a South Africa Press Conference at Radisson Blu Hotel in Stillorgan, Dublin. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The Springboks poor performance against Ireland proved that their great display against New Zealand in Cape Town was not the hoped-for rebirth of South African rugby.

Springboks Poor Performance Against Ireland

Sitting down to write this article, the initial intention was to put together an analysis of the game and to highlight the key moments of the game. This would not do justice to the reality that is the slowly dying, anorexic Springbok. The Springboks loss was set up long before referee Ben O’Keefe blew the whistle to start the game. There was always going to be an extra edge to this game, given the Irish Rugby Football Union’s attack on World Rugby’s announcement that South Africa was their preferred bidder to host the 2023 Rugby Word Cup.

Selection Confusion

Head Coach Allister Coetzee continues to focus on “consistency of selection” ahead of form. This has not worked and we have to wonder why he refuses to experiment with other players in his squad. The pack was a little wobbly on Saturday, but is not the biggest problem they are facing, other than some questions being asked of the loose trio. Some would like to see a true openside flanker being chosen, but Francois Louw is seconding for injured captain Warren Whiteley. The loss of Jean-Luc du Preez as a Test quality blindside flanker before the tour due to injury was a significant setback.

It is in the backline that there are serious selection problems for the Springboks.
For this game, his back three consisted of Courtnal Skosan, Andries Coetzee and Dillyn Leyds. They were nothing short of abysmal under the high ball. The precision kicking of Ireland’s Connor Murray and Johnny Sexton had them under pressure throughout the game. Even the most casual observer would have been able to point this out before the game. A high kick on the back three presented Ireland a great opportunity to win back possession.

In terms of attacking penetration, they offered nothing. This could be said of the rest of the backline too though. It doesn’t look likely that Jessie Kriel, Damian de Allende, Elton Jantjies and Ross Cronje can convince us that they are still Test standard. There can be no excuse for their lateral running and inability to break the Irish defensive line.

Coetzee had a lot to say during the week about his selection conundrum. Should he pick Elton Jantjies, who had not been with the team or should he go with Handre Pollard, who had been practicing with the team? As usual, he took the safe option and stayed with the man in possession, Elton Jantjes. There is talent in this squad and that remains unused and Coetzee needs to answer to that. Forget the fact that there are 300 South African players plying their trade in Europe. Coetzee is squandering the chance to use the talent he does have at his disposal. In-form players such as Warrick Gelant cannot get a look in. Lukhanyo Am has outperformed both starting centres throughout the year, but awaits his first opportunity. We cannot expect wholesale changes for any game, but surely blood one of these players off the bench at least?

Players ignored include Stormers fly-half Robert du Preez, Lions centre Ruan Janse van Rensburg and former Cheetahs wing Makazola Mapimpi. Put bluntly, the Springboks are in an appalling hole at the moment. Therefore an element of experimentation should be expected to try to change the fortunes of the team.

Missing Game Plan

It would be kind to say that the Springboks had a well thought out game plan. Instead it was a case of kick, kick, kick, by a group of players not equipped to do so and not used to that being the primary way to play in the right areas of the field. This was immature and obvious that the coaching team had spent no time on attack play. The naive execution of just about everything the Springboks attempted raises questions about what exactly the team and coaches were doing during the week. Preparing for this Test seems to be the unlikely answer.

There was no evidence of using different running lines off a first or second receiver. The Springboks butchered at least two tries with hurried passes. With a four on two overlap on his left-hand side, Damian de Allende chose a stab kick ahead, easily fielded by the Irish. Defensively, the Springboks lost concentration and fell into the habit of not trusting each other. Too often, they compressed inwards on defence, with two or three players being drawn in to defend against one attacker.

Coaching Staff

It is fairly obvious that Coetzee is currently attracting a lot of criticism. Deservedly so. His selections, as well as the game plan he has developed, have made no sense. His original appointment was always controversial as he has never won a significant International trophy as a head coach. This is despite having the resources of one of the strongest Stormers squads at his disposal in Super Rugby.

The setup with Coetzee’s assistant coaches remains less than ideal. The South African Rugby Union (SARU) has been in a financial hole since losing a raft of sponsors in 2016. This forced them to contract part-time coaches, namely Franco Smith from the Cheetahs taking care of attack and Brendan Venter looking after defence and exit play. The interesting result of this strange arrangement is that Venter is not available to coach the Springboks in the week before the match against Italy as he is still contracted to them.

The sad thing about this game is how poorly the Springboks applied the basics of the game. Handling, tackling, passing. What happened?

The End of the Pain?

It has been rumoured that there was a nasty altercation between Coetzee and SARU President Mark Alexander after the game in Dublin. SARU, who are losing the faith of the South African rugby public faster than they understand, appear to be preparing to end Coetzee’s employment during his contract review in December. One of the early indicators that something is up is that current forwards coach, Johan van Graan, who takes over from Rassie Erasmus at Munster, has not been replaced nor a replacement nominated.

With the imminent arrival Erasmus at SARU headquarters, the writing may very well be on the wall for Coetzee. The reality for South African rugby though, is that a the best thing for the game is a complete overhaul from age group rugby right to the very top.

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