Kudos to Coetzee

RYAN VREDE writes that Allister Coetzee hasn’t received the praise he deserves for what he has achieved by winning the Currie Cup.

There are some champion teams that require low levels of coaching input because of their vast experience or exceptional talent, or indeed a combination of the two. The Crusaders teams that won the last three of their seven Super Rugby titles is one such example, the Bulls 2009 and 2010 Super Rugby side and Springboks’ 2009 British and Irish Lions series winners and Tri-Nations champions another. But the Western Province unit that trumped a Springbok-laden Sharks side who were, on paper, better equipped in all areas that matter, is not one.

They were largely a collection of rookies, many in their first season of senior rugby and most of them forwards. They mostly didn’t have the benefit of being installed next to a seasoned campaigner and had no experience to draw from when the pressure was turned up in the league phase, or indeed in two away play-offs. This was a coaching masterclass from Coetzee. One that hasn’t been fully appreciated.

I was critical of Coetzee’s team in failing to advance to the 2011 and 2012 Super Rugby final despite hosting the semi-finals. I wrote that he was ill-equipped in terms of elevating their attacking game in the opposition’s 22m. My view on this issue hasn’t changed. That, however, must not detract from the overall assessment of Coetzee.

As an assistant to Jake White, Coetzee won the Tri-Nations and World Cup with the Springboks. At the helm of the Stormers he has won two conference titles, and made the 2010 final where they were beaten narrowly by the best Bulls side in the history of the franchise. A Currie Cup final defeat in 2010 preceded their victory on Saturday, rounding off a highly impressive CV.

His talent identification and astute use of that talent has been excellent. I’ve enjoyed his composure (publicly at least) in the face of an injury crisis this season. Seldom lamenting the absence of some world-class players and prodigiously gifted bucks, Coetzee has simply moved on, choosing to extol the values of those coming into the side.

Tactically he has stuck to his beliefs on how the game should be played. This in the face of significant media and public pressure. He adapted his team’s style in the Currie Cup in light of less demanding defences and less potent counter-attackers. The Stormers will return to their territory-based approach in 2013, and rightly so.

Coetzee has also consistently selected more black players than his counterparts, launching the careers of Siya Kolisi, Nizaam Carr, Scarra Ntubeni and Marcel Brache, while making Gio Aplon and Juan de Jongh key members of his sides. He has never lauded his success in this key performance area because I sense he doesn’t view it as a numbers game. He simply picks the best available players, some of whom happen to be black. Coetzee, in this regard, has succeeded where Peter de Villiers, who proclaimed himself the saviour of black players, failed.

In the context of this country’s rugby history it is relevant that he is South Africa’s most successful black coach. What is infinitely more relevant is that he is among the best we’ve ever produced, black or white.

The Super Rugby title still eludes him. He has to succeed there to be considered one of the greats. Provided he can keep a strong squad fit, he can. For now it is important that we give him the praise due for his massive role in breaking an 11-year title drought. He coached WP to Currie Cup glory in the purest sense of the word. Kudos Toetie.

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