I hope it was all sorted out amicably in the end. Like Jacob Zuma, Allister Coetzee just had to go. The criticism was turning fast into anger and, if not dealt with, then revolution was the next step. For all his enthusiasm and general niceness, Toetie came, saw and didn’t conquer. In fact, we went backwards.
His first year might just have been excused but not after two at that troubled helm. He should have fallen on his sword. Despite protestations from Brendan Venter that there had been improvements, they were not obvious to rugby fans and, with the World Cup in 2019 fast approaching, the change had to be made now.
It was sad that the angry letter was leaked. Why does it always seem to end in acrimony here? Presumably it was much to do with labour law and tactics ahead of a settlement. One just wishes as much thought had gone into rugby tactics in the last two years. That he was set up to fail rings hollow as it did with Peter de Villiers. Rugby doesn’t care who leads as long as the Boks fill us with pride. I hope the settlement was fair and, when the inevitable book comes out, there is at least some constructive comment to go with the criticism, mud-slinging and excuse.
However, there is a nagging concern after the Steinhof collapse and the latest, more detailed, allegations from Graeme Joffe, that something is rotten in the state of our rugby. Is it too much to ask an experienced, credible, investigative journalist to sort the wheat from the confusing emotional chaff and get answers to questions that are fair and based on specific and real concerns? Off field shenanigans in sport bore me rigid but there are specialists who love digging into them. What are the fair questions? Who needs to answer them and, if not, why not? In the current climate of rejuvenation and accountability sport should not be ignored.
I don’t know what to make of Rassie. He was a talented and intelligent player and was capable of independent thought, especially around captaincy. However, he famously turned down the Springbok leadership against Italy. This worries me as surely an indicator of potential top coaching ability would be a desire to embrace leadership, even if it was felt that a particular chalice was poisoned at the time?
He is credited with wonderful work at Munster and won the Pro12 coach of the year. Fair enough. However, last week I enjoyed the company of a visiting former Irish international tourist who, surprisingly, is not a Rassie fan. He felt that the groundwork had already been done when he arrived in Munster. Mind you, he stemmed from Leinster. Time will tell, it might be said.
The problem is that there is not much time. Rassie has talked about how Springbok sides have been turned around quickly in the past but this is a new era of the game and it is evolving very quickly, especially in attack. Did you watch England beat Italy last week?
The English pack was immense and not just in the tight. Props were running and passing well. So were the locks. Sam Simmonds, the compact number eight, scored two tries that any international wing or centre would be proud of. From the very start of the game, England’s speed of movement and handling was impressive. The switching of the lines of attack via inside passes, some that often missed a player, in search of a gap, looked fresh and dangerous. There was variety present that has been missing in the past. There was also brain to conduct it. The inside backs, in particular, looked like players who had been battling to understand new concepts but finally have mastered them. They looked frighteningly confident in their handling at times.
In summary England, not always, but at times, looked like a side that had moved up to another level. They will also improve as we move on. Ironically, it wasn’t England that surprised and impressed the most. Rather it was the side in blue that lost 15-46. A hammering? Yes, but it was a scoreline inflated by late tries, and for a good while the Italians were in touch. However, again, unlike the Springboks, at times their attacking play was sublime. They carried far more than guts and bravery. They carried invention that we have not seen of late. England vs Wales should be a cracker.
In Paris, it was tight but Ireland were in total control until that brilliant French try. However, in the end they put together an incredible forty phases to set up the winning drop by Sexton. Do we really believe our players are anywhere close to that level of professionalism? Also one of those phases included a successful foot pass to a wing! Fitness, skill, teamwork, patience, bravery and guts led to that final win. In comparison to the Springboks, even in that brave display at Newlands last year is not a cause for optimism. We have a mountain to climb to compete with the best.
Good luck Rassie. Good luck rugby. Let’s hope the much needed new beginnings in rugby and the country’s leadership match each other in terms of success. Mind you, it hard to say which is the tougher job.