Allister Coetzee’s career as Springbok head coach was marked by an 11-25 test record.

This includes four wins against France, three against Argentina, and one against Italy. This record also includes two wins against Ireland, and one against Australia. The Boks had no Test victories against New Zealand, England, or Wales.

Whether or not SARU (South African Rugby Union) was right to fire him, several issues undermined his tenure. For a rugby nation as proud as South Africa, a 44% win record is not good enough. This does not excuse the theory that Coetzee would have succeeded in a different set of circumstances.

None of this success every really looked likely.
Photo: Stephen Barker

Close Results

When looking at Coetzee’s time as head coach, it is important to remember that the Springboks put in some good performances. And that with five more points, the Boks would be the winners of the Rugby Championship. Two draws with Australia did not help, because it demonstrated how well and poorly they can play.

Then there was that Test match in South Africa, where the Kiwis ran out with a narrow 25-24 victory. They showed solid defence, and creativity in attack, and were one Damian de Allende penalty away from a victory. Had the centre not seen red for a shoulder-charge on Lima Sapoaga, the Boks win.

The 57-0 demolition in New Zealand and the 38-0 drubbing in Ireland were exceptions to this. The Boks were dreadful and Coetzee was part of that.

These close affairs continued in the Autumn Test Series, where they lost 24-22 to a depleted Wales side. Beating France and Italy were not terribly difficult challenges but may have bought Coetzee a little bit of time.

Poor Finishing

Continuing the previous point, the South Africans were notoriously wasteful during this year. Missing key opportunities against Australia and New Zealand meant that the Boks finished the year with just seven Test wins.

The days of J.P. Pietersen, Willie Le Roux, and Bryan Habana have gone, and it is starting to show. For all of the pace that Courtnall Skosan and Raymond Rhule offer, they offer little else. They are quick but lack the poacher’s instinct, defensive skill, or creativity.

Elton Jantjies filled in very well at fly-half, especially with Handre Pollard and Pat Lambie out. His creativity and running game made him an excellent replacement. He also had his flaws, especially missing key penalties against Australia and New Zealand.

Handré Pollard’s excellent vision was certainly missed.
By David Roberts from London, via Wiki Commons

There is also a critical lack of creativity in midfield. It was one of Coetzee’s key flaws, his persistence to stick with hard-trucking and powerful centres. That is what makes Jan Serfontein, and Francois Venter so key to the side. Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende are great ball carriers but offer little in the form of go-forward.

Diminished Squad

The Springboks have a very good side, but they have some key issues within their squad. The back line has very little in the way of experience, predatory instinct, or defensive solidity. Rhule, Skosan, and Dillyn Leyds never proved themselves at the top tier of World Rugby.

They also lack a stable front row. Loosehead in pretty solid with both Tendai Mtawarira and Steven Kitshoff. Neither Bongi Mbonambi and Chiliboy Ralepelle are adequate replacements for Malcolm Marx, who has suffered with his lineout throwing. Tighthead is the most problematic, where the penalty-prone Ruan Dreyer and injury-prone Coenie Oosthuizen are the starting options.

Centre has always been one of Coetzee’s weaknesses. His inability to select promising players has recurred throughout the years. Doubts over Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Lukhanyo Am, and Francois Venter are well documented, and continued selection of Kriel, and de Allende does not reflect form for club or country.

Chaotic Backroom

One of the clearest things to recognise in the Springboks play is that there is mass confusion in the minds of the players. Players have been told different things by different coaches. For the men on the pitch, it can be hard when you get one set of directions from the head coach, another from the forward’s coach, and another from the lineout coach.

This is part of why Coetzee eventually got sacked. There was too much discord between the various parts of the Springbok set up. If the whole coaching staff had been on the same page, Coetzee might’ve found himself in a more secure environment.

It’s hard to imagine Coetzee was given the same support as O’Shea and Hansen.
Photo by Dave Rogers – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images

It is also why Rassie Erasmus became Director of Rugby in South Africa. His outstanding coaching and man-management skills make him valuable. It is also expected that his time in Munster will translate to the Boks.

All in all, Coetzee spent the entirety of his career as South African head coach bogged down by external forces. If he was in a more transparent and realistic environment, he could have been an excellent head coach.

Author: Andrew Weaver

My name is Andrew, I live in New York City, USA, and I play second and back row for Play Rugby USA. When I am not playing rugby, I’m drawing, or enjoying a good book. Thankfully, I was able to navigate through the other American sports and land on rugby.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Andrew for a great article.

    As a South African it is very easy to get into the chorus of removing the Coach when the team is not performing well. For me the problems for the Springboks started all the way back when we lost to Japan. Something changed in the belief of the team, support from the wider public diminished. I even stopped watching Rugby for many years because of this, I lost faith (Don’t worry I have it back).

    Alister Coetzee was not the only reason Springbok Rugby is in a state, but his removal is the first step on moving forward, but it is the first step in a long road to glory. At the time when he was selected as coach he had the Super Rugby experience and had been under previous World Cup coaches , so he was the best we could select at that time. But just like players cant make the step up from Super Rugby to International Rugby the same is for coaches (Only my opinion).

    I also believe that coaches can create a team that is more than the sum of its parts. Johan Ackermann took a relegated Lions team all the way to Super Rugby Final, without the super stars (OK he did have a few gems) but those players are now in the Springbok fold because of good coaching.

    But in his defence the great Rugby nations New Zealand, Ireland. There is a connection between the national side and the provinces, decisions are made collectively or in the best interest on Rugby in the Country. There is not the same connection between the Springboks and the Super Rugby teams.

    I think there is a long road ahead, but if we can at least see some form of plan. Things will definitely improve.

  2. nice article, it’s nice to see just how much certain factors can affect a coach’s tenure. do we know who’ll replace him? it will be interesting what they can do in similar circumstances.

  3. Dont agree with a lot. Toetie knew the conditions of the job before accepting it. He shouldn’t have been so weak and put in his demands at the beginning. In 2007 he needed Eddie Jones to show him how to teach players to run into space. At the Stormers where would he have been if the likes of Gert Smal and Rassie Erasmus had not been there?
    In the end he picked the players and the tactics and time after time was out thought and found wanting. Getting spanked by 57 points by the All Blacks then saying you are happy with the defensive effort says a lot.
    If he was such a good coach apart from Japan I don’t see any top European clubs eager to employ him unlike Jake White, Heyneke Meyer and Rassie Erasmus.
    In 1995 Saru were the best rugby federation in the world now they are a corrupt selfish amateur circus jumping to the tune of racist government policies which South Africa were banned for in the 80s and should be now.

    • This article does not represent my personal opinion, it was meant to contradict a bandwagon of people saying he deserved it. It was also meant to address some of the problems within South African rugby and SARU. This was also playing Devil’s advocate, just trying to introduce a different point of view.

  4. Andrew are you actually fully aware of the politics in South African rugby? Your lack of knowledge of South African rugby is obvious especially of saru. Different yes but naive more. The bandwagon you talk of quite ignorantly actually involves seasoned rugby journalists including those of South African nationality. As with the above commentator I am South African.

  5. Good article Andrew, thanks. It is important to express and understand various view points and opinions on subjects (particularly sensitive ones) as it aids in the process of creating a broader foundation of knowledge. It is also refreshing to read articles about the South African rugby landscape written by someone not currently living in the South African rugby bubble, irrespective of whether I completely agree with the content or not. Rugby is rugby and everyone has an opinion or interesting perspective worth sharing.

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