After the gloom of 2016, during which the Springboks achieved just four wins from 12 matches and suffered a 57-15 loss to the All Blacks, many fans (this author included) expected an improvement from the below-par results.
However what ensued this year was a 57-0 massacre at the hands of the All Blacks, a 38-3 defeat to Ireland, and a third consecutive loss to Wales.
Coetzee's charges managed seven wins from 13, which at least is an improvement after the horrors of 2016.
However, the Springboks failed to beat any team above them in the rankings –– their seven wins comprised four against an inconsistent France team, two against an unstructured Argentina, and one against rugby minnows Italy.
It was a frustrating year for the Boks overall –– one that began with great promise, but fizzled out in disappointment.
The Boks began their year with a series of training camps, in which a new culture was spoken about. The introduction of Brendan Venter and Franco Smith provided stability to the coaching staff, and Coetzee spoke about how the players were better conditioned and clear on the game plan. He decided to pick a largely locally based team for this series, and Warren Whiteley was elected as captain.
The coach decided to trust new players like Ross Cronje, Raymond Rhule, Courtnall Skosan, Andries Coetzee, Malcolm Marx and Mbongeni Mbonambi. The Springboks won the series 3-0.
Their forward pack, defence and set pieces proved to be the key to these victories, with Malcolm Marx a colossus . There was optimism among fans that the Springboks had improved –– although the French had been inconsistent, and the Bok flaws were largely untested.
Charismatic captain Whiteley was then lost to injury, and Coetzee decided to appoint Eben Etzebeth as stand-in captain. Etzebeth is a man who leads via his performances, but this author contends that the captaincy should have been given to Siya Kolisi.
Kolisi elevated his game to another level after being tasked with the responsibility of captaining the Stormers, and he would have been a better option to take the reins. Nevertheless, the Boks began the Rugby Championship with two routine wins against Argentina.
However, the real test was the Australasian tour, facing Australia and New Zealand. The Boks began with a draw against Australia –– which many believed showed the Boks' character, as they came back from 20-10 deficit.
Coetzee stated that the Boks would take positives into the next game against the All Blacks. However, the Wallabies had exposed the defensive fragility of the Boks' back three. The All Blacks capitalised on the back three's inexperience in the next game, delivering a 57-0 drubbing in Albany.
This was seen as the Springboks' worst loss –– they conceded eight tries. Despite this, Coetzee thought they were still "positives" to be taken from the game. The Boks then managed to draw against the Wallabies again, which was at least an improvement on the previous game.
Amabokoboko produced their best performance of the year against the All Blacks at Newlands –– including a colossal showing from the forward pack, with Marx rightfully receiving the plaudits. However, the fact that the Boks' best performance was once again during a defeat, shows just what a dismal year they have had.
End of Year Tour
Much was expected of the team in their End of Year Tour, after their heroics in their second defeat against the All Blacks. The matches against Ireland and Wales were always going to be the barometer of how far the Boks had come.
Sadly, they produced a shambolic performance against the Irish, ending in a 38-3 defeat. The Irish played with more passion and outwitted the Springboks, who lacked innovation in attack and were surprisingly bullied by the Irish forwards. Their tactical kicking also left a lot to be desired.
In their next match, they manage a meek and unconvincing 18-17 victory against France. at least the Boks beat Italy convincingly, building on a solid forward platform, but most fans reckon that's the least we could expect of them. Then in their penultimate game of the season, Amabokoboko lost to an injury-depleted Welsh side 24-22.
They started off poorly against the Welsh, and repeated errors that had characterised their season. Gelant's performance –– and the counterattacking of the backs in this game –– provided a positive for the Boks. However, the backline was lethargic and error-prone, and the debacle, to most fans, looked like it would be Coetzee's last game.
However, there has been no word from SARU about a new coach.
The way forward
This author contends that Coetzee's time is up, and that SARU should appoint an alternative. The Springboks have had a poor season, and one must not expect Rassie Erasmus to be the sole messiah of Springbok rugby.
The Boks require sound selections that aren't based on loyalty or reputation. In order to compete with the likes of New Zealand, England and Ireland, the Boks need to find an identity and a style that best fits the players, and not be stuck between different approaches.
If the Springboks want to play with a ball-in-hand approach, they should select players best suited to that approach. Transformation targets need to be taken more seriously at franchise level, so that black players and coaches are provided an opportunity to showcase their talent.
Black players who get selected at national team level should be given an opportunity, and not merely be tackle-bag holders. The likes of Lukhanyo Am, Gelant and Mbonambi deserve more opportunities.
Furthermore, transformation should not be seen as a barrier, but as an opportunity to ensure that all South Africans can identify with the national rugby team.
The new coach should be given autonomy in selection, but should be aware of transformation targets. A cultural shift is required within the structures of South African rugby, and everyone should pull in one direction to ensure that the Springboks reach the heights that we all know they are capable of.
Player of the Year: Malcolm Marx
Young Player of the Year: Jean-Luc Du Preez/ Warrick Gelant
Super Rugby Player of the Year: Jaco Kriel