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What did Coetzee do wrong?

With exactly one week to go before the announcement of the new Springbok coach, the lunacy seems to be continuing at SARU as the quest for this appointment approaches farcical proportions.

As probably the only national team, outside of the DRC, not to have a national coach this inordinate and unnecessary delay is only adding to uncertainty and certainly providing limitless grist to the rumour mill.

Every day there is a new twist or turn. The latest being that Gert Smal has turned down the job due to the fact that there were some imposing conditions around his assistants i.e. that he could not choose them, that Paul Treu was a non-negotiable, the ‘security’ of just a two-year contract, and hefty transformation targets in the national team. Whether this is or isn’t true, is totally besides the point. The issue is if this could have been fronted up with by SARU and dealt with shortly after the World Cup we would not have all these rumours and Machiavellian plots. Taking so long and doing it all so secretly is only adding petrol to the inferno.

But one should spare a thought for Stormers coach Allister Coetzee who, earlier this week, admitted that he was out of the race to succeed P Divvy.

Again, whether you think he deserves the national job or not, is beside the point. The point is why has Coetzee been so sidelined and in effect, and it appears to be common cause, has dropped out of the frontline race and the shortlist of three appears to be have become one of two… even, perhaps, one as Heyneke Meyer seems to have taken over the mantle from Smal?

The point around Coetzee is that he is the outstanding domestic coach currently (actively) coaching, having taken his team to every single play-off since it took over the head coach’s position and for the past two years being amongst the top two log positions in Super Rugby (winning the SA Conference in 2011). In fact, in 2010 he won the Coach of the Year Award. It is curious that the coach of the year does not merit rigorous examination or given an interview or an approach. We are none the wiser as to why he appears to have fallen out of the picture. But more importantly we suspect neither is he. It is remarkable that the outgoing coach, what ever you may think of him as a coach, has been treated like he has. And the same applies to his assistants, who apparently have not heard a word from the erstwhile employers nor any acknowledgement of their reports or input. One has even already been forced to find work abroad.

It is fine, absolutely, not to advertise the position to avoid having to process all comers’ applications. However, to whittle down to a shortlist, even a one-man list, without hearing the plans and presentations of these prospective coaches is odd. As too is the manner, which is shrouded in secrecy to the extent that this article may well be misinformed, but it seems the corridors of power are as porous as ever in leaking information about this process. Which makes the delay more ridiculous.

There is another turn around Coetzee. And that is the fact that he would certainly, given his impeccable political background and connections, reduce some of the potential tension around transformation, numbers and with government, which may well be the case with employment of another coach. It does not make it right, but it’s a factor. One is uncertain as to why SA Rugby are prepared to entertain this again.

Probably the most poignant point around Coetzee is that if we are serious about transformation, and the decision on a player is 50/50, the player of colour should play. By the same merit, how can the 2010 Coach of the Year be so easily discounted?

But that should never allow Coetzee to be regarded as a transformation candidates (and that is the beauty of him) – the man is far more – a successful and popular coach of one of the country’s top teams.

It is odd, to say the least, that he has been overlooked based on not winning a trophy. He won a World Cup as an assistant coach and if you spoke to a Springbok back from that era they would have spoken of the respect for Coetzee. The Stormers/Western Province have been the most consistent team in South Africa over the past two years and Coetzee’s results at Super Rugby level is superior to that of Smal’s at that level.

Meyer, of course, has won a Super Rugby trophy, but choosing Smal over Coetzee cannot be a results-based decision. It must be something else; and one is uncertain as to how this sort of decision is reached without interviews or conversations.

We are blessed, for once, with an excellent field if the three-man shortlist is to be believed and all three of these gentlemen will add real dignity and consistency to the national team. But one cannot wash away the ham-handed way this is being handled by the national body.

* Who is your choice for Bok coach – Smal or Meyer… or do you think Coetzee should have stayed in the race?


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