06/03/2018 05:35 SAST | Updated 07/03/2018 05:57 SAST

Set Up For Failure: An Ode To Allister Coetzee

"Black head coaches for the Springboks will seemingly never be good enough for the South African Rugby Union, or the South African rugby public."

Marcos Brindicci / Reuters

Black head coaches for the Springboks will seemingly never be good enough for the South African Rugby Union (Saru), or the South African rugby public. Who is to blame for this rather confusing reality seems a rather philosophical question.

You'd be forgiven for assuming that the level of clout and constant nitpicking at the tenures of black South African coaches feels like a plot out of a Hollywood script. Forever having to explain their exact agenda and player choices is something most coaches have to endure – it's part of the game – but constantly being made to feel like you're being set up to fail seems a situation oddly unique to black South African rugby coaches.

Coetzee was brought in not only to plug the holes in the Springboks, but also to redeem some level of dignity after that unforgettable 34-32 walloping of Heynecke Meyer's Springboks at the hands of a disciplined Japanese team.

Allister Coetzee was the second nonwhite South African head coach since the dawn of democracy. Having spent some time, fairly successful I might add, with Western Province and the Stormers, as well as being a Springbok assistant coach for the 2007 Rugby World Cup, he was an easy choice for the head coach position – after the infamous Heyneke Meyer had clung on to power longer than he honestly should have.

Meyer, long a stalwart of South African rugby, had masterminded the success of the Blue Bulls in years gone by, but had stuttered throughout his Bok coaching career. Thus Coetzee was brought in not only to plug the holes in the Springboks, but also to redeem some level of dignity after that unforgettable 34-32 walloping of Meyer's Springboks at the hands of a disciplined Japanese team - Arguably the biggest upset, in World Rugby.

This article, though, is not about statistics, games, or the mismanagement of the Springboks. It is also not designed to absolve the Springboks of their poor performances under Allister Coetzee and Pieter de Villiers – it's about something deeper.

Something rugby fans dance around on their way to concluding that the Springboks need to play better, right next to the lack of seriousness by Saru in development, and the laissez-faire approach the department of sport and recreation has toward transformation in rugby.

This is about the lack of trust, respect and support Saru has offered to black coaches in the national system.

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Prior to being axed, Coetzee wrote a scathing letter directed to Saru CEO Jurie Roux – which is now in possession of Times Live and has been authenticated by SA Rugby – regarding his treatment by Saru management; from the inception of his tenure until the day he was removed from his position. In it, he argued that he felt that he was "set up for failure", and his reputation was being made to suffer due to what seemed like deliberate acts of sabotage on the part of Saru.

Having been hired to lead the Springboks on the April 12, 2016, he had very little time to prepare the team for a three-match series against an in-form Irish squad, which the Springboks narrowly beat. His ascension to the coaching position seemed as unplanned as former president Zuma's infamous late-night cabinet reshuffles.

On the other hand,his predecessor Meyer was hired in January 2012 with ample time to prepare for not only the three-match series, but the entire year. Coetzee's successor, Rassie Erasmus, lauded as the saviour of South African rugby, was announced recently to much fanfare as the new Springbok coach – with enough time to not only prepare for the year, but also for the first three-match series against England.

"Saru alone is not complicit though, the media have a big part to play in mapping discourse around the coaches."

What about Pieter de Villiers, you ask? He was hired in January 2008, after all. Enough time to prepare both players and staff for the year ahead. What a lot of people who bring up this argument fail to mention, is that two months into the year, De Villiers' Springbok contract was not even signed yet.

Contractual negotiations broke down again in March on the back of De Villiers insisting that he have the final say in team selections – the plot had more than thickened, and Saru was being a comic-book villain. Saru seemingly wanted to micromanage South Africa's first nonwhite rugby coach – something they never did with Jake White and probably won't do to Rassie Erasmus.


Saru alone is not to blame, however. The media too have a big part to play in mapping the discourse around the coaches. After receiving the open etter, certain media publications looked to shape the letter as being one of a disgruntled former employee who was throwing toys and not accepting blame – instead of acknowledging the deeper issues that lay at the heart of transformation in South African rugby, and heeding Allister Coetzee's warning of the troubles that await any nonwhite rugby coach that dares try his hand at the head coaching responsibilities of the Boks.

We have been constantly reminded that his Springbok team was punished by the All Blacks in the last end-of-year tour, but by the same reckoning were never reminded how Pieter de Villiers masterminded a 100 percent win record over the All Blacks in 2009 at the time of his dismissal.

The intention here is not to cast aspersions on the selection of Rassie Erasmus as the new head coach, but just to remind us to remain cognisant of the fact that Saru does not play fair with black coaches, nor does it seem to lack the ability to plot their preferred candidate into place – if Allister Coetzee's allegations are to believed.