As one of Allister Coetzee’s most vocal advocates during the jostling leading up to the appointment of the Springbok coach I argued that the most important demon that needed to be exorcised in South African rugby was the myth that transformation and performance were somehow mutually exclusive. Empirical evidence suggested that Allister Coetzee was the champion that this cause was pining for as he had slayed this bête noire before in winning a Currie Cup and topping the South African conference in Super Rugby with a Western Province team and Stormers team respectively that habitually had 7 or 8 black players starting. The weight of a nation’s hopes were thus on Allister’s shoulders and, after stumbling in his first few steps, he seems to finally be finding his feet and, with the Rugby Championship about 2 months away, the little titan from Grahamstown may very well prove to be Atlas Telamon.
I’ll admit to having lost faith in Allister Coetzee last year because I felt that he had betrayed every tenet on which our support for him was based. We had backed him as an established and experienced coach whose credentials were beyond reproach and would thus have the thick skin and backbone needed do be an effective change agent. Unfortunately, being appointed in April with barely enough time to get his Springbok Blazer tailored let alone prepare a team for the arrival of the Irish for the first test series, on top of having a management staff thrust on him when all of his predecessors (and indeed his competitors) had the freedom to pick their team of consiglieri, Allister was firmly on the back foot. This was a recipe for disaster having inherited a Springbok brand that had been run into the ground by his predecessor, and the 2016 season seemed to suggest that the poisoned chalice had overwhelmed our black knight. It wasn’t so much that Allister was losing test matches but rather the manner with which they were losing, as with each loss the approach and the selections became increasingly conservative to the extent that it was starting to get difficult to tell Allister Coetzee and Heyneke Meyer apart. Deep introspection was done at the end of the year, venerable technical minds were brought into the fold, collaboration in preparation with Super Rugby franchise was sought and the franchises obliged, and the planning for the 2017 season was extensive. Having seen these steps being taken I intimated on various media platforms that I believed that the Springboks would be markedly better in 2017 than they had been in 2016 and I even feel that with Allister Coetzee finally being given the necessary tools, 2017 is his actual first year as Springbok coach, and what a start he is off to.
Allister has embarked on an effective overhaul of Springbok rugby, most notably in the playing philosophy. He has introduced a culture of trusting skills above single dimensional physicality, a shift in paradigm evidenced by Coenie Oosthuizen’s try in the second test against France where he received a shortball delivered by Pieter-Steph Du Toit in the face of the advancing defense. Such deft interplay between tight forwards has been the subject of much envious lust amongst South African rugby mavens as we’ve looked on in wonder at the likes of Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock. No more shall we marvel at how green our neighbour’s grass is as Allister and his lieutenants are turning the manure of the last 5 years into fertilizer.
Yes, it is important to note that thrashing the French is the rugby equivalent of a 33% pass mark and I’m not even anticipating that we’ll be contenders yet for this year’s Rugby Championship but, with many pundits having predicted a series loss to the French it is a discernible leap in the right direction, not simply because of the emphatic wins but the manner with which we built those wins, and the fact that it was done with a starting XV that comprised 7 black players. In this series Allister Coetzee has delivered on every metric that a Springbok coach is measured on. He has shown faith in black talent and his starting teams have comprised exclusively players plying their trade locally, and the yields on his faith have been bountiful. With 3 winters in which to build a hoard to storm Kings Landing for the iron throne, Allister is starting to look less Stannis Boratheon and more Daenerys Targaryen. Allister of the house Coetzee, first of his name, leader of men, slayer of stereotypes, and commander of the people’s green army. Long may he reign.
GritSports Rugby Pundit – Chulumanco Macingwane