My mind goes back to January 2012, when Heyneke Meyer was appointed Springbok coach. For many, his appointment was seen as vindication of a process which saw him purportedly robbed of the position in 2008.
Expectations ran high after his predecessor was, possibly unjustifiably, berated more for slips of the tongue than the actual performance of the national side. I include myself in this regard.
From 2008 to 2011, the Springboks, under Peter de Villiers, won 30 of their 48 matches, or 62%. Under Meyer, the tally was 34 victories and two draws in 50 matches (66.7%).
Things were tough in the beginning. As “Ou Grote” puts it:
After his first seven tests in charge, Heyneke Meyer has a 42% win ratio. This is the worst return of any Springbok coach since Carel du Plessis in 1997 with 37%. By comparison, Peter de Villiers boasted a win ratio of 71% after his first seven games in charge, having beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand for the first time since 1998.
Meyer made two major errors during his tenure.
- At the start, he was leaning too heavily towards copying what worked for him during his golden years at the Bulls.
- Towards the end, and particularly at RWC 2015, he, like Peter de Villiers, could not get the mix between experience and talent right, placing far too much emphasis on older players beyond their prime.
Allister Coetzee has kept a low profile since his appointment, electing to work behind the scenes, communicating with players and coaches on what he expects of them.
Unlike his predecessors, the captaincy of the side is not the most pressing issue, despite what we read in the media. The early announcement of John Smit and Jean de Villiers in past years made it virtually impossible to retract as time showed that they were possibly beyond their best form.
While Duane Vermeulen is possibly the best option, SA Rugby’s insistence that the captain should not be playing overseas brings Strauss and Lambie into the picture.
Do not be surprised if Coetzee opts for dual captaincy. Lambie will have to make way for Jantjies on occasion, as will Strauss for a replacement from the bench.
Selection of overseas players
This has suddenly become an issue for many. This reminds of the old saying: “I have principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”
I bet that those bleating for local players, only, will be the biggest supporters of using overseas based players if we suddenly get whacked in the front row, or find ourselves short of an experienced scrumhalf.
Can we blame players like Steven Kitshoff for making use of the opportunity to earn big bucks with the state of the Rand, or CJ Stander for fulfilling his dream to play international rugby, albeit for Ireland, after being told by the coach that he was too small? I bet he can’t wait to prove this statement wrong.
The idea of adding a clause that you can be selected for SA and play overseas, provided you have played at least x number of tests, is utter rubbish. How many more players of the calibre of Stander and Richardt Strauss do we want to lose?
In my view, Coetzee faces more than enough political challenges. He does not have to be encumbered unnecessarily with more restrictions.
In view of the late start he had, the series against Ireland should not be regarded as part of a long-term plan. Use it to gel experience and raw talent, see who comes out on top, and build from there.
I am more than confident that we have enough players who can make the side on merit without so-called quota selections.
A last positive thought on Coetzee: He certainly learnt a lot from Jake White, not only as assistant coach in the 2007 RWC, but also through their years of friendship.
White has, yet again, proved his merit with the performance of Montpellier this year. I have no doubt that part of Coetzee’s behind the scenes work involved picking Jake White’s brains, just as White did with Eddie Jones.
Expect some unpopular choices, and be prepared to apologise when it comes to fruition.
This will be nothing new for SA rugby fans – we do it every time a new coach is appointed.