Springbok Groundhog Day Continues with Loss to Wales – Tata Toetie?

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CARDIFF, WALES - DECEMBER 02: Allister Coetzee, the South Africa Springboks coach looks on in the warm up during the rugby union international match between Wales and South Africa at the Principality Stadium on December 2, 2017 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

The Springbok groundhog day continued with a narrow 24 to 22 loss to a second string Wales team in Cardiff.

Last Word on Rugby’s Robert Rees covered the game in his article published on Saturday. We will cover some of they key thoughts from a South African perspective coming out of this game.

Scorers:

Wales – Tries: Williams, Parkes 2 Conversions: Halfpenny 3 Penalty: Halfpenny

South Africa – Tries: Gelant, Pollard, Coetzee Conversions: Pollard 2 Penalty: Pollard

Any writer (as well as fan) following the Springboks over the last two years can be excused for thinking that they are in the leading role of the movie Groundhog Day. The comments remain the same after every game. Poor selections, a confused game plan, strange defensive patterns and an inability to cope with the high ball are common threads across most match reports.

Springbok Groundhog Day

Selections

As usual, Coetzee provided us with selections that beggar belief. Warrick Gellant, a player who has played his entire career at fullback, was handed a start on the left wing. The fact that he was caught out of position twice is not his fault. Lay that at the door of the person who selected him there.

The continued selection of Jessie Kriel at outside centre can no longer be justified. He adds little on attack. Despite playing outside an in form Francois Venter he is unable to break the line on his own or create space for his wing. The midfield does appear to be a conundrum for Coetzee. He is playing Venter out of position at inside centre. He could have selected Lukhanyo Am who can cover both the inside and outside positions, but gave him only ten minutes game time throughout the entire tour.

It is also saddening to see a natural ball player such as Venter having to drop his head and throw himself at the defensive line. Scrum half, Ross Cronje, bases his game on passing. Expecting him to boss the game by kicking from the base is simply not going to work.

Game Plan

The Springboks game seems to be stuck between kicking and running and it is not a good place to be. If we are honest, the entire backline has been hopelessly inept throughout the tour. Basic skills like passing and catching the ball have been poor. Old habits die hard and attacking play proved to be too lateral. Too often, we saw a forward standing still receiving the ball at first or second receiver.

The High Ball

Launching high kicks on the back three has become very profitable for any team taking on the Springboks. This has been a recurring theme the entire year. We would certainly hope and trust that the coaching team addressed this during training sessions. If they did and the players could still not perform one of the most basic tasks of playing rugby, catching the ball, why were they continually selected?

Coetzee’s insistence to use a “consistency of selection” policy was the conservative route to take and it could prove to be his downfall. Relying on the same players and tactics that have continually failed him and the nation can only point to his own inability to instill confidence in players or to work out out a plan that would change the teams fortunes.

Tata Toetie? (Goodbye Allister?)

Popular opinion is that Coetzee must go. It would come as a massive surprise if Coetzee survives his performance review, which is less than two weeks away. Eleven wins out of twenty-four is not acceptable for a proud South African rugby public. The rubbish Coetzee spews during press conferences is surely an embarrassment to SARU. He has declared himself very satisfied with the Springboks performance in 2017, seemingly oblivious of the fact that the victories they did achieve were against weakened opposition. Losing 57–nil to the All Blacks and 38–3 to Ireland is neither successful nor progress as Coetzee would have us believe. It is an embarrassment. His continued denial of reality reminds us of the Hans Christian Anderson fable “The Emperor’s New Clothes“.

Many people are calling for a “big name” coach to replace Coetzee. The question begs though…. who is this big name coach, is he available and could SARU afford to pay the price of buying Coetzee out of his contract and paying for the said big name? SARU are not exactly printing money themselves, so this seems more and more unlikely. Coetzee has firmly stated his position that he is staying on until 2019, something which Springbok rugby cannot afford either.

So What Now?

There are a number of rumours currently doing the rounds. The first involves the new Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus. His new appointment is much larger than the Springbok Head Coach job. If he focuses more on the overall health of the game in country, he would play a major role in growing and improving the game at all levels.

Deon Davids of the Kings has been mentioned as a possible successor to Coetzee. This might not be as bad an appointment as some might think. He has over-achieved, in relative terms, with the very limited resources he has had at his disposal. Making him head honcho still represents a major risk though.

South African-born former France international Pieter de Villiers (not the moustached former Springbok coach) has also been mentioned in some circles. Appointing him would also represent a risky option as he has no experience as a Head Coach.

Oh to be a fly on the wall during Coetzee’s performance review….

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