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Venter’s advice should be heeded

Gavin Rich, writing for SuperSport:

The public uncertainty over the fate of Allister Coetzee as Springbok coach has finally come to an end, but even it if hadn’t been concluded with last week’s announcement, there would be no need for South African rugby fans to panic.

Rassie Erasmus, in his position as the national Director of Rugby, was always going to be in charge in 2018, regardless of whether Coetzee had stayed on or not. That is what people in that position do. They take charge. The hiring and firing of coaches effectively becomes their responsibility (although that was conveniently forgotten by Western Province when Gert Smal was courting John Mitchell in 2015), and the coach is answerable to him or her.

Coetzee objected to being entrusted with a “ceremonial” coaching role, but that is not really what it would have been, and Coetzee is not new to working under a Director of Rugby. Indeed, his best years as a coach coincided with him being a coach who worked under a director.

His Stormers team finished in the top two of Super Rugby when Erasmus was effectively the WP director in 2010 and 2011, and his recovery from a slump that coincided with his years going it alone as Stormers coach came when Smal was director in 2014 and 2015.

Coetzee was effectively demoted by WP in those years, and that would have been one of the reasons he left to coach in Japan at the end of 2015. It’s his right to object to once again serving under a boss but that was something he knew about quite early last year.

Coetzee does have strengths as a coach but he also has limitations, and failing to recognise that he is not on the same level from a tactical and technical viewpoint as someone like Erasmus was perhaps his undoing.

He did make gains early in 2017 by bringing in the tactically astute Brendan Venter. There were improvements in the initial parts of last season, but for some reason (did Coetzee perhaps feel he was not getting enough credit?) Venter’s influence appeared to wane later on.

Venter is a brain that should not be ignored. Although Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber are quite far down the road towards preparing for the England series in June, something they started when they were still working together at Irish province Munster, it would be remiss of them to completely ignore something that Venter suggested last week on Twitter.

Venter claims quite rightly that last year, Coetzee’s second in charge, wasn’t the complete disaster that is being made out. It was 2016 that really tripped up Coetzee. More of an improvement needed to be made in his second year to save him, but although they weren’t nearly as big as Coetzee has publicly suggested, there were some strides made.

Erasmus and company shouldn’t feel they are starting from Ground Zero in building the Boks back to where they should be. For instance key players have gained experience and therefore should not easily be discarded, and before the disastrous defeat to the All Blacks in Albany, there were positive signs that a strong team culture was being built.

It has long been a weakness in South African rugby that there has been so little continuity or carry-over of intellectual property when one coaching era ends and another one begins. It is a trend that started more than two and a half decades ago. That’s when the suggestion by the first isolation Bok coach, Professor John Williams, that he come to Cape Town to present the board with his views on where the Boks went wrong on the first tour of France and England in 1992, fell on deaf ears.

Williams didn’t want to save his job, he just felt the next coach should be well versed on some of the pitfalls he had experienced. It has been the same with almost every subsequent Bok coaching hand-over. For instance, Peter de Villiers was laughed off when he offered to help Heyneke Meyer with the transition in 2012, thus effectively making the four years of peaks and troughs that preceded that point seem like they was all in vain.

Former Bok lock Mark Andrews, who for a long time was vying with the late Joost van der Westhuizen for the right to be recognised as the most capped Bok, once said that his biggest achievement in rugby was to survive the many turn-overs in coach that he had to experience.

“Every coach came in with different ideas and wanted to start from scratch by putting his own stamp on the team, and it meant players had to keep changing their own games,” said Andrews.

Erasmus is his own man, he is a clever coach and his appointment is a great one for the Boks and South African rugby. He is the right man for the job. But if Coetzee is willing to share his experiences and the information that his staff would have gathered over the past two difficult years for Bok rugby, the chances of Bok success at the World Cup in Japan next year will be increased. Ignoring the past, and the lessons learned, is a mistake that has been made too often.

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