Relegation threat forces Coetzee’s hand

The possibility of WP dropping out of the Currie Cup Premier Division has contributed to the decision to push fatigued Springboks to play this Saturday.

Allister Coetzee was the Bok assistant coach between 2004 and 2007 before he linked up with the Stormers and Western Province in 2008. He is well aware of the manner in which rugby is administrated in South Africa, having been involved with the Boks and a provincial union, and knows how the contracting system is such that the provinces dictate how much rugby the Boks play over the course of a season.

On Wednesday, Coetzee explained his decision to include all seven returning Springboks in the starting line-up for the final Currie Cup league match against the Cheetahs.

Flanked by a visibly exhausted Jean de Villiers, Coetzee admitted that it was a not an ideal situation if one looked at it from a Bok perspective, but as a coach of a province that pays the players’ salaries, his hands were tied.

‘It’s the way the contracts work in this country, the players belong to the province,’ said Coetzee. ‘Unless there is a change to the structure, that is the way it’s going to be.’

WP are currently in third place on the Currie Cup log, but if they lose this weekend and the other two results go against them, they could finish in last position.

This would see them playing a promotion-relegation series against the Eastern Province Kings to determine who will feature in the 2013 Currie Cup.

It is therefore in WP’s interest to play all of their available Boks, no matter their state of fatigue. If there wasn’t such a risk of dropping down to the First Division, Coetzee may have given a few of the top players a much needed break.

‘If you look at what we are all facing, the reality of being relegated, well you have to have your Boks at your disposal,’ he said.

‘That’s what unions are going through right now, nobody wants to get relegated. If we were different position on the log, then maybe I wouldn’t have played all the Boks. Now we have to play our best team.’

It was thought at the beginning of the season that the Boks would be excused from the Currie Cup given their extensive workload in the Super Rugby competition and heavy Test schedule. But De Villiers suggested last week that the Boks would return for domestic duty at the conclusion of the Rugby Championship, and when he said it, you got the feeling that he wasn’t happy about it.

Coetzee confirmed on Wednesday that the thought process of using the Boks in the Currie Cup had changed recently because of the prospect of relegation.

Indeed, it is not only WP who have loaded their team with Boks. The Bulls have stacked their team with returning Boks and it’s likely that the Sharks will do the same when they name their side later in the week.

De Villiers is currently nursing a hamstring injury and will only train at WP’s captain’s run on Friday. It is a situation that highlights the faults of the South African system, and WP can’t be blamed for working within the given parameters.

If the South African system was similar to that of New Zealand, a country that centrally-contracts their players so that they are managed accordingly, they wouldn’t be in a position where a fatigue-related injury is a probability rather than a possibility.

De Villiers said that he wasn’t happy with the situation and, more damningly, suggested it wasn’t likely to change. It’s the rugby player’s lot in South Africa to simply get on with it.

‘It’s not really relevant what the players feel, it’s a decision that the administrators need to make,’ he said. ‘When you are needed, you need to step up. As long as the decision lies with the unions, it doesn’t matter what we as players feel.

‘We might gain more from something like central-contracting,’ admitted De Villiers. ‘Maybe we need to sit down and come up with a model that works for everyone.’

By Jon Cardinelli