To refresh or retain?

RYAN VREDE asks if eight Tests is enough time to prepare the Springboks for a World Cup title defence should the coaches be bulleted?

The likelihood is that the head coach Peter de Villiers and his assistants, Gary Gold and Dick Muir, will get a stay of execution when they face a review panel in Cape Town on Monday. This despite their diabolical record since November 2009 (they’ve lost eight of 13 matches, with three of those victories against lowly Italy). However, to predict a definite course of action for an organisation as unpredictable and inconsistent as the South African Rugby Union would be foolish, and the trio would be foolish to assume their jobs are safe.

Rapport reported on Sunday that Gold and Muir were in the firing line. Certainly Muir must be accountable for the side’s attacking impotence in the Tri-Nations. Thirteen tries in six Tests under laws that promote attacking play is unacceptable. Likewise, Gold’s forwards were largely diabolical, while the Springboks leaked tries (22) with infuriating and alarming ease.

However, to exonerate De Villiers, the key decision maker and chief selector, would be ludicrous. Neither Muir nor Gold selected the team’s best defensive organiser, Jean de Villiers, at wing. Neither advocated the omission of a specialist openside flank after Francois Louw was jettisoned, a selection decision that meant the opposition were consistently able to recycle quickly at the breakdown, and in so doing pressure the Springboks’ defensive line. De Villiers was the one who consistently picked severely fatigued players. And it certainly wasn’t his wingmen heaping pressure on the side with questionable, absurd and oft illogical offerings in the media.

If one goes, all should, and vice-versa. Loyalty is one of De Villiers’ strongest traits, and that quality will be tested should one or both of his assistants feel the cold sting of the axe.

The cost involved in that course of action will be a major deterrent for the governing body (they are contracted until after the World Cup). But the question of time, not money, must be the starting point of any decision to alter the coaching staff.

At this point any new regime would effectively have eight Tests (less if they opt to rest players at any stage) to prepare the team for their title defence. It will be a testing hospital job, and one that will demand a tactically astute coach with a clear plan and vision (among other attributes), as well as one willing to risk his reputation and credibility should he fail – defined by the vast majority of the country’s rugby fraternity as the inability to retain the World Cup.

Jake White has already stated his willingness to accept that challenge should it present itself, but whether other potential candidates, the likes of Bulls director of rugby Heyneke Meyer or Western Province head coach Allister Coetzee, would be as enthusiastic is debatable. Meyer has built a reputation for casting and achieving long-term goals, and it is doubtful that he would be taken by the prospect of a quick fix.

The question of would they or others should be coupled with can they? Can a new coach/coaching staff with a different playing philosophy mould the unit into one formidable enough to guard the gold? Would they have enough time to build depth in troublesome positions – fullback and flyhalf the most urgent of those? Can they earn the respect of the senior players, so crucial to the mood and potency of the collective?

These and other questions must be carefully considered by the review panel, if indeed they decide that a change of regime is needed after the embattled incumbent coaching staff plead their cases. With under a year to go until the showpiece tournament, it would be a bold move, and one that they will have to be equally accountable for should they retain the troubled triumvirate.

Of course, if the relative insignificance of a four-yearly tournament was appreciated, it would be a simple call.

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