The result effectively means Coetzee starts his era as coach on the back foot.
Jubilant Ireland coach Joe Schmidt charitably made the point at the post-match press conference that the Boks played like a team that was coming together for the first time, and the loss of Pat Lambie to injury after 23 minutes certainly didn’t help the home team’s cause.
The two halfbacks, Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies, lacked experience in Lambie’s absence, and their poor decision making certainly contributed to the Bok defeat.
However, Coetzee was not looking for excuses.
“We have to give credit to Ireland, for they played outstandingly well with just 14 men, but the simple fact of the matter for us was that the players did not produce performances worthy of the Springbok jersey and we are going to need to look at that,” said Coetzee.
“I am very disappointed. We are not only disappointed for ourselves, but for the country. Everyone must be feeling very disappointed tonight. Our execution was poor and we made lots of mistakes. Many of our errors were unforced, and you just can’t afford to do that at international level and expect to win. It just wasn’t a good recipe to win a test match.
“Allround the performances just weren’t good enough to be representing the Springboks, and we are going to have to be better than this next week. I’d say we will need to make a 50 to 60 percent improvement across the board if we hope to win at Emirates Airlines Park in Johannesburg.”
Coetzee emphasised the need for good decision making, and the Boks never produced what he asked for.
“I will have to watch the video and see why we didn’t kick the ball in behind the Irish defence. We were also too lateral on attack. It was just not good enough, particularly as we were playing against 14 men. We know that the opposition does tend to lift effort levels when down to 14 men, but we still should have been a lot better.”
The immediate priority for Coetzee will be to assess his flyhalf back-up for next week.
Jantjies and De Klerk should profit from playing on their home ground in the second test, and maybe the familiarity with the environment will inject some of the confidence they seemed to lack on Saturday night, but the question of who will back Jantjies up is a vexing one.
Garth April is a work in progress and Coetzee said when he announced his squad two weeks ago that he would be looking to ease April in slowly rather than rushing him into international rugby.
April packs a lot of promise, but he also has a high error rate, which is understandable for his lack of experience – he was just playing club rugby this time last year – and that was again in evidence when he was part of the South Africa A side that lost to the England Saxons in Bloemfontein at the start of the weekend.
“Patrick has picked up a concussion. Fortunately it is not something worse than that. But that means he will be out for two weeks. If all goes well, he could be back in time for the last match in Port Elizabeth, but we will need a new flyhalf in our group for next week, and I am going to have to do some thinking about that,” said the coach.
There are many technical areas that need assessment and improvement too.
“On attack our carries were too upright. Here and there we also made some poor decisions on defence, and at the defensive breakdowns,” he said.
“We worked hard in training and everything went well there. We had a good build-up and I have no complaints about that. But on the night, our execution was terrible. We are going to have to look at that and the players are going to have to realise that it just isn’t good enough for Springbok level.”
However, Coetzee is reluctant to press any panic buttons just yet.
“The players will look at where they went wrong and I think it is fair to give them a chance to show that they have learned from their mistakes,” said Coetzee.
It is not going to get any easier for Coetzee and his team, however, as Ireland coach Schmidt made it clear that his mission was to win the series, and not just one match.
A win in Johannesburg will be enough to clinch an historic achievement for Ireland, but failing that, they will get another chance in Port Elizabeth the following week.
“We did well tonight and we played very brave rugby to keep the Boks out once they started to pick up momentum when we were down to 14 men,” said Schmidt.
“I thought the red card was unfortunate. I thought CJ was already committed and he couldn’t pull himself out of the tackle at that point. But when there is a big injury there tends to need to be a card, and I can tell you that CJ was as concerned about the condition of Patrick Lambie after he came off the field as he was about his own situation.
“It was great to win tonight but at the same time we know there is sure to be a Bok backlash. We are going to altitude next week, we are going to the home ground of Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies, and we know we will be under tremendous pressure to prove that this win wasn’t a one-off flash in the pan. As good as we were in this match, we will have to be even better next week.”