Bok coach just a sideshow
The media focus has been, mostly, on underperforming Springbok coach Allister Coetzee, certainly the latter part of the year.
However, the key decisions that have to be made in the next week will be surrounding the administration of the game.
There are a series of meetings, starting on Wednesday (December 7), that could plunge the game deeper into the mire of mediocrity it already finds itself in or lift it back to a level of respectability.
The following meetings are scheduled for the next week:
Wednesday, December 7: Conditioning indaba with the Super Rugby franchises.
Thursday, December 8: South African Rugby Union executive committee meeting to discuss policy issues surrounding the national team and players.
Friday, December 9: SARU general council meeting in Cape Town to discuss proposed constitutional changes and competition formats.
Monday, December 12: Follow-up indaba between Coetzee and Super Rugby coaches.
Tuesday, December 13: Springbok 2016 review.
While much of the scuttlebutt – some of which have taken on urban legend status – suggested that next Tuesday's meeting is the BIG event, the more consequential and significant decisions will be taken on Thursday and Friday.
Depending on which grapevine you listen to, Coetzee has already been fired, he will see out the remaining three years of his contract and coach the Boks at the 2019 World Cup in Japan, there will be a major shake-up in his backroom staff, or he will be 'promoted' sideways into a managerial role and a new 'coaching panel' will be appointed.
The quidnuncs and gossipmongers will have you believe that New Zealander Dave Rennie – currently employed by the Chiefs till the end of the 2017 Super Rugby season and contracted to the Glasgow Warriors for two years thereafter – tops SARU's 'wishlist' as the new national coach.
That same lists also includes Munster head coach Rassie Erasmus (on a three-year contract that started in July 2016) and Montpellier's Jake White (coming off contract in June 2017).
However, these rumours always come with a proviso. In this case, it is obviously the amount it will cost to 'buy' Coetzee out of his Bok contract (reportedly ZAR13-million for the next three years). And who knows what the price tag is to get Rennie out of contracts (with the Chiefs and Glasgow) that run till 2019 and Erasmus out of his Munster deal?
As it is, SARU is reported to be in the red to the tune of almost ZAR19-million and potential sponsors are fast drying up.
White also still has some 'enemies' at SARU HQ, following his acrimonious departure from the Bok job at the end of 2007.
All this means it is unlikely Coetzee will be replaced immediately.
But then again, stranger things have happened. Just ask Ian McIntosh.
White also knows what six defeats can do to your 'value' as a national coach. Coetzee has lost an unprecedented eight Tests this year.
The most likely scenario, and the most practical, is a shake-up of the Bok backroom staff – which would see the likes of Mzwandile Stick and Johann van Graan shown the door and Coetzee (FINALLY) allowed to select his preferred assistant coaches.
But that is just one of the sideshows to the drama likely to play itself out on the main stage.
Thursday and Friday are the days when the important decisions will be made.
One of the most contentious issues – which was a major point of debate this year – is the policy surrounding the overseas-based player.
New SARU President Mark Alexander said back in October that it was a problematical issue and will be up for review. Conditioning and medical insurance are among the main issues causing problems.
SARU are keen to place a greater emphasis on home-based (those playing Super Rugby) players. Although Super Rugby players who play in Japan from November to February is also on the agenda.
Another policy issue on the table includes constitutional changes that will allow private enterprises to own up to 74.9 percent of a domestic union or Super Rugby franchise.
There is talk of 'American interest' in the Southern Kings, but even this seems to be an idea in its infancy and far from practical – given the personalities involved and the capacity of Doug Schoninger, a New York financier and CEO of PRO Rugby USA. (See video at the bottom for more)
This will curry favour with a lot of the cash-strapped unions – with reports that even the Sharks and Bulls are not as financially stable as it appears on the surface.
Changes to competition formats could see the Currie Cup return to a six-team strength-versus-strength format. This past year's pre-season qualifying tournament made a mockery of South Africa's Premier domestic competition and the Eastern Province Kings only managed to put their team together by the second week of the competition proper – after attempts to have them excluded failed dismally because of petty boardroom politics.
The new proposal will see the big five – Lions, Bulls, Sharks, Cheetahs and Stormers – ensconced, while the other nine provinces will battle for the sixth position. How that sixth position is decided is likely to cause some lively debate at the meeting – given the acrimony that accompanied the qualification for this year's tournament.
Teams like Boland Cavaliers and EP Kings will lose out, while the Pumas and Griquas will be the main contenders.
SARU's budget and it's dire financial situation will also be up for discussion, while structural changes could see the BIG FIVE have more say and the minnows less power when it comes to voting processes.
There will be some big losers. Will the have-nots be willing to let go of the apron strings and go out on their own into the big wide world?
That will all be decided in the next week.
By Jan de Koning