Springbok 2016 Season Worst in History

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)

The Springbok 2016 season will go down in history as their worst season on record and no amount of excuses will address the issues that are at the core of this dismal failure.

Springbok 2016 Season Worst in History

There are a number of different issues that contrived to form the perfect storm that hit South African rugby with such force in 2016. We take a a look at the most important factors that saw the Springboks end the year with a success rate of only 33%, winning four out of twelve games and not a single Test away from home.

The Structure at SARU

This is nothing new and has been raised on numerous occasions, yet nothing changes. It is time to step away from the the President’s Council compiled of the President’s of the various provincial unions. This is a format that may have worked well in the amateur era, but is proving to be ineffective in the professional game. The national team should be in the control of the national body, run by professional administrators and not representatives of the provincial unions. Provincial representatives will alway protect the interests of their own unions ahead of those of the national team – it is a clear conflict of interest.

The naivity of appointing a coach three months after the Super Rugby season had started points to how far divorced the SARU Executive are from rugby reality. The incoming coach, whoever he would be, would not have the opportunity to work with the Super Rugby coaches regarding player management or skills development. Thinking that a coach taking sole control of an international team for the first time could survive with the inexperienced group of assistant coaches they appointed proves that the powers at SARU have no inkling of what it takes to develop a world class team.

SARU President Mark Alexander on Saturday announced plans to radically revamp South African Rugby. Doubling the independent representation on the Executive Council as well as including a players representative has been touted, as well as allowing third parties a majority shareholding in the various Unions commercial arms. This would open the door for privatizing the Unions. The red flag here though is that these are mere proposals at this stage, as these will be put in front of the Presidents Council to be voted on. History has shown that if the Provincial Union perceives a loss of power or influence in South African rugby, they will vote against the proposal.

The Coach

A lot has been said of Allister Coetzee’s suitability for the job of Springbok coach. It is well documented that Coetzee enjoyed the bulk of his success as an Assistant Coach to Jake White, or when he had the influence of Rassie Erasmus or Gert Smal at the Stormers. Those successes were limited and he was unable to deliver a Super Rugby title even with the strong Stormers squad he had at his disposal. His selections have proven to be strange at times, as has his inability to move the squad forward. In reality, the Springboks have performed worse and have stumbled from one disaster to another. As reported before, it does not appear that Coetzee has the confidence of the dressing room and no amount of structure changing will fix that.

Coetzee has not been able to move this squad forward and there are two simple examples of that.

  1. The Springboks ability to compete at the breakdown has been no better than diabolical, a concern we have previously covered on Last Word on Rugby.
  2. He left if until the last Test match of the year to hand debuts to Uzair Cassim, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Jamba Ulengo. The squad was already demoralized and under-performing. These selections appeared to have been made more out of desperation than design.

The Assistant Coaches

Coetzee has his assistant coaches forced on him, with only Matt Proudfoot being appointed at Coetzee’s discretion. The reality for the Springboks is that, after losing their title sponsor after the Rugby World Cup, the purse strings had to be significantly tightened. SARU had to make do with a very inexperienced group of coaches. Calls to bring in heavyweight coaches to assist are fanciful at best until SARU can secure a significant title sponsor to be able to bankroll that. The same can be said of firing Coetzee and his assistant coaches. Can SARU afford to pay them out for the balance of their contracts? Popular opinion says no.

The Reluctant Captain

The Springboks leadership group was severely depleted after the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Acknowledged leaders such as Jean de Villiers, Fourie du Preez, Schalk Burger and Victor Matfield had moved on. With the inexperienced group that Coetzee had at his disposal for his 2016 campaign, there were very few realistic contenders for the captain’s armband other than Adriaan Strauss. It was no secret that Strauss did not really want the job, but took up the challenge to assist Coetzee with the understanding that he would retire from international rugby after the End of Year Tour. It is believed that Strauss can be convinced to continue his international career, but only if the Springbok captaincy is passed on to someone else.

ROME, ITALY - NOVEMBER 19: Adriaan Strauss of South Africa, the Springbok captain, shows his dejection during the international match between Italy v South Africa at Stadio Olimpico on November 19, 2016 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)
ROME, ITALY – NOVEMBER 19: Adriaan Strauss of South Africa, the Springbok captain, shows his dejection during the international match between Italy v South Africa at Stadio Olimpico on November 19, 2016 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)

The Players

Rumour has it that there are multiple fractures in the Springbok squad. The first disconnect is between the players and the coaching team, with the players having no faith in the coach and his assistants. The second rift is said to be along provincial lines, with cliques of players from the different Super Rugby franchises being at odds with each other.

Coetzee has also recently bemoaned the conditioning of players who are based outside of South Africa. The irony in this is that the more Coetzee and Co struggle to deliver results, the more foreign based players they call up.

Can South African Rugby Survive Another Year Under Coetzee?

South African rugby is in financial trouble. The Kings have never been able to turn a profit. The Sharks are trading in the red. The Stormers had to apply for liquidation after a trading loss in the region of R10million in 2016. They faced a further R75million claim from Aerios relating to various commercial rights the Stormers had concluded on their own despite having an exclusive agreement with Aerios. Of course this has nothing to do with Coetzee, but it starts to paint a dire picture that requires drastic intervention. The paying South African public have started to keep their Rands in their pockets instead of attending games. The dire performance of the Springboks in 2016 under Coetzee though will have a direct impact on Super Rugby attendances in 2017 as many traditional rugby fans have started to disengage from the game in disgust. This is a fact acknowledged by broadcaster SuperSport.

This does not bode well for the Springboks in June 2017 and it is hard to see stadiums being filled up for the three Test series against France. Poorly attended matches, as well as declining television viewership, means lower earnings for SARU. An ever tightening circle.

The bulk of South African rugby followers have also lost faith in Coetzee and the Springbok team. Unless he is able to pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat to beat the French 3-Nil (that is the expectation of a rugby public starved of success) and win all the Springboks home games in the Rugby Championship along with at least one away win, the paying public will continue to disengage.

The Springboks shocking performance in 2016 might not necessarily be entirely Coetzee’s fault, but he may just be the fall guy to start the complete clean out this is required in South African rugby.

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