Springbok stand-in captain Eben Etzebeth has fired a salvo at former players and coaches critical of the team on their tour of Europe, saying they were not always up to speed on the facts.
Asked to respond to some of the fierce criticism levelled against the team by Nick Mallett and Naas Botha following the 24-22 loss to Wales at the weekend‚ the big lock said: "They don’t always know what they are talking about.
"I enjoy captaincy a lot and I don’t really remove myself from the game. As far as I know I have always done what I am expected to do and being captain is a responsibility that I love doing."
Etzebeth also became the second senior Springbok player after Siya Kolisi to openly support embattled Allister Coetzee to continue coaching the team.
"I have no say in that [whether he stays or not] but if the decision was up to me, I would keep him as a Springbok coach‚" said Etzebeth.
"We had our few opportunities to win matches, which we did not take. In the four games [against Wales‚ Italy‚ France and Ireland]‚ we could have won [them all]. We are the guys who go into the field and not the coaches. We are going to have to do better next time."
The Boks beat France and Italy but went down to Wales and Ireland.
Coetzee himself came out all guns blazing and appears to be unfazed by the mounting calls for his head.
Just minutes after landing in Johannesburg on Monday‚ Coetzee threw down the gauntlet to his employers and said it was business as usual as far as he was concerned.
"I am going through the normal procedures of a review‚" Coetzee said. "I will never predict the future because I can’t.
"But I will give my plan to SA Rugby and then they can determine whether there is growth and whether we are heading in the right direction."
Coetzee‚ who has overseen seven wins‚ two draws and four losses this season‚ insisted the Boks have improved gradually in 2017 and he was happy with what they have been able to achieve. "I firmly believe that we are heading in the right direction‚" he said.
"This team has improved from last year and has been fitter‚ stronger and they last longer. We’ve had minimal injuries this season, which shows the hard work that has been done by the medical and conditioning staff.
"The team can adapt to situations on the field and one must not forget we lost Warren Whiteley as our captain and Etzebeth had to stand in.
I will give my plan to SA Rugby and then they can determine whether there is growth and whether we are heading in the right direction
"There are leaders who have developed around Eben‚ like Siya Kolisi‚ Elton Jantjies‚ Francois Louw and from that perspective, we are also better off."
Coetzee has been accused of not playing enough black African players‚ but he defended his team selections on Monday.
"Lukhanyo Am was unfortunately injured most of the year‚" he said. "Beast Mtawarira was out with an injury and it is not like I am sitting with these players for six months.
"I am not window dressing. There are positions in this team that may not be world-class at the moment, but they will definitely develop with time.
"With all the selections‚ I have agreed in my contract to a transformation plan that I must abide by and is accepted by SA Rugby and the government.
"With all these challenges‚ there will be mistakes here and there but I understand exactly what is going on and I am looking at the bigger picture," Coetzee said.
"Hindsight is the perfect science and every time I make a selection‚ I make sure that it is the best for the Springboks team and for the plan that we have.
"I had to give Warrick Gelant the opportunity and the try he scored with his blistering pace is a benefit for the team.
"There was also Dan du Preez — it is great that they have come through and I would have loved to see more of Lukhanyo Am.