Coetzee’s days are numbered
Speculation mounts as SA Rugby mulls coach’s future
Allister Coetzee’s future as Springbok coach could be counted in days after SA Rugby’s executive council met on Sunday and Monday to discuss it.
Coetzee’s job was not the only item on the scheduled agenda, but it was the most pressing. The outcome of the gathering remains unclear.
The Boks lost eight of 12 Tests in 2016‚ which included a record loss to the All Blacks (57-15 in Durban) and a maiden defeat to Italy (20-18 in Florence).
They also lost at home to Ireland for the first time and away to Argentina for the first time.
They failed to win any away games and conceded a mammoth 35 tries in 12 Tests, matching the shambolic 2002 season under Rudolf Straeuli.
Despite Coetzee attributing the poor results to his late appointment and players travelling overseas as contributors‚ there is no reason to keep him on after a 33% win ratio.
But dismissing him is not an easy process under South African labour law‚ which is why SA Rugby has carefully and methodically undertaken a review of his brief tenure.
They are doing it by the book — and even that might not be enough to show the beleaguered coach the door.
One source told Business Day that Coetzee‚ who still has three years left on his Springbok contract‚ was "definitely going to be sacked".
But other sources indicated that sacking Coetzee was unlikely because the sports ministry had "urged" SA Rugby to give him another year.
To add to the confusion, a further source said that big business and potential sponsors were threatening to withdraw their support for SA Rugby if Coetzee was retained.
Predictably, SA Rugby would not be drawn on the matter‚ saying in an e-mail to Business Day that they would only comment once the review was complete.
Their initial time frame for its completion was the end of January‚ but that might have been accelerated given mounting speculation. about the position.
Over the past week, unsubstantiated claims that former Stormers and Cheetahs coach Rassie Erasmus had been approached to replace Coetzee have surfaced. Erasmus’s lawyer, Frikkie Erasmus, denied those reports: "Rassie has not been approached at all‚ it is pure speculation‚" he said.
Former Bok coach Jake White‚ who led the team to the 2007 World Cup title and will be out of contract with French club side Montpellier in June‚ also laughed off suggestions he had been approached.
Erasmus is only nine months into a three-year deal with Irish province Munster‚ where he is the director of rugby. Extricating him from that deal would be costly‚ particularly as employing defence coach Jacques Nienaber would almost certainly be one of Erasmus’s demands.
White’s Montpellier are third in the standings after 16 rounds and in contention to win the French Top 14 championships.
However, White — who left the Bok position in 2007 and took up a job with the then International Rugby Board — would no doubt relish another shot at the job.
Sacking Coetzee over his results would be legitimate, but even if wins and losses were overlooked‚ his position remains untenable because of the alarming way the Boks deteriorated throughout 2016.
Seldom, if ever, has a Springbok team looked so bereft of direction‚ leadership and planning as it did by the end of the season – arguably a bigger stick than poor results with which to beat Coetzee.
SA Rugby’s decision on Coetzee will come down to whether the body is strong enough to make the only logical choice it has‚ and sack the coach‚ or risk another year of sub-standard performances at great cost to rugby.