The 2016 Springbok Rugby Reality Check

From Last Word on Rugby, Ryan Jordan
The 2016 Springbok rugby reality check that supporters are facing is the result of a perfect storm of events which have served to rock the foundations of South African Rugby.

The 2016 Springbok Rugby Reality Check

These events are well known, but have generally been looked at in isolation under a microscope of negativity. Bad news sells as they say. I tried to discuss this negativity with people on social media recently and found it interesting how people refused to step down from their soapbox and view the situation from a different point of view.

This is not an attempt to soft soap the current Springbok rugby situation. Let us take a look at a few of these issues and try to put them into some form of perspective.

Late appointment of Allister Coetzee

We have covered this at Last Word on Rugby before, but the appointment of Allister Coetzee in April left him with insufficient time to properly prepare himself, his coaching staff or the players. He was always going to have an uphill struggle in 2016 and is stuck between Heyneke Meyer’s squad and style of play and his own vision for Springbok rugby.

Assistant coaches lack experience

None of Coetzee’s assistant coaches have any experience as a Super Rugby head coach, let alone as a Currie Cup coach. When things go wrong or he needs a different view, who does he turn to for advice? To take an alternative view, what would happen should Coetzee fall ill during the week leading up to a Test match? Who within the current structure has what it takes to face off against the likes of a Steve Hansen or Eddie Jones next week at short notice? This inexperienced coaching team will have to learn on the job and Test rugby is a tough training ground.

Defensive Frailties

This should fall under the heading above as it is also a coaching concern. It is so significant though, that it deserves to be highlighted on its own. Chean Roux was formerly a technical adviser to the SARU mobi-unit and was roped in as defensive coach for The Rugby Championship. This was a stop-gap measure to replace Jacques Nienbaber who followed Rassie Erasmus to Munster. Roux does have coaching credentials and possibly a future as a prominent coach within South Africa. A defensive coach he is not.

The frailties in the Springbok defensive system are well known to all. Rugby pundits will unpick the poor alignment, passive defense and individual weaknesses. The All Blacks, Wallabies and Los Pumas have proven that the Springbok defensive is fairly easily unlocked. The question that remains to be answered is if Roux will continue after The Rugby Championship.

Lack of flyhalf depth

The concussion suffered by Pat Lambie and the long term knee injury to Handre Pollard left Coetzee with Elton Janties as his first choice flyhalf. Without rehashing an old story, the one previous season that Janjies played under Coetzee for the Stormers wasn’t a success by any stretch of the imagination.  Backup flyhalf for 2016 is Morne Steyn. South African readers will excuse me for making this analogy. Steyn reminds us of the granny in the Fattis and Monis pasta advert. Wheel him out of the cupboard when you need him. There are a number of very young, promising tens playing in the Currie Cup, but they are very green youngsters who need to work on delivering consistently good performances every weekend.

The Springboks desperately need both Lambie and Pollard back.

Ball carriers

If we take a look at the current Springbok pack we have to ask who the best option is as a ball carrier, tasked with bending back the opposition defensive line and giving the backline quick, front foot possession? They are sorely missing the likes of a Duane Vermeulen or a Schalk Burger. When we look at the current depth available at Currie Cup level it becomes concerning. Coetzee probably had the same concern when looking to replace injured lock Lood de Jager with a ball carrying blindside flank. He had to resort to recalling Willem Alberts, who had a very disappointing 2015 carrying a number of injuries and is short of game time in 2016.

No Springbok coach will survive using this example, but the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, long-time Manchester United Coach, ring true.

“If you can’t support us when we lose, don’t support us when we win.”

I am not saying to anybody they must fail their colours to the mast and stick with it, but a little perspective and balance is surely in order.

It does hurt to be a Springbok supporter right now. It hurts when I say the word “Japan”. Losing a home Test for the first time against Ireland resulted in a case of indigestion.

Will I be handing in my Supporters Card? Absolutely not. South African rugby is in a poor state right now and there is lot of work to be done at an administrative, coaching and playing level, but giving up is not an option. Keep on commenting, keep on pointing out the weak points, but above all… keep on supporting!

No matter which country or club you support, you do need to ask yourself “Are we only fair weather supporters?”
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