Tony McKeever

Springbok coaches: Who’s in, who’s out?

National rugby coaches are like lightning conductors for raw emotions and there is no such place on earth like the seat of the South African rugby coach, he gets struck multiple times with the intensity of heaven and hell colliding.

When it’s good — the coach can do no wrong and when the Springbok team loses they are damned to eternity with such seething fire and brimstone and naked aggression, it releases such negativity and rage that clear and concise thinking is almost impossible. If ever the statement, “courage under fire is required”, it applies here.

In a week’s time Peter de Villiers, the South African rugby head coach, will review 2010 on September 28 and will have to put markers down for the pathway he wishes to go down to defend the Rugby World Cup title in New Zealand.

This cannot be some blue-sky new innovation of some new-fangled strategy ie a knee-jerk reaction to extensive losses in the Tri-Nations.

Firstly, the Springbok players are not at fault because they are the elite core that won the Super 14, so the focus naturally falls on the strategy and competency of the head coach and assistant coaches Dick Muir and Gary Gold in determining the appropriate winning strategy.

Clearly this trio hasn’t been able to accomplish a winning strategy and upon closer scrutiny, Muir’s performance record as a coach stands out as the weakest link.

His record over at the Lions left them with the worst performance ever in the Super 14 with not a single win. Then followed the losses at the Springboks combined with the early season Currie Cup losses by the Lions. Tally this up and it is likely the worst coaching record ever for an elite coach in South African rugby.

Muir somewhat salvaged the Sharks performance under him by calling in john Plumtree as a defensive coach and so again he had to call on John Mitchell as head coach, to make good at the Lions in the latter half of 2010 what Muir was unable to achieve himself.

It is true that the South African rugby team is gifted with phenomenal talent and it is true that De Villiers has provided a formidable team spirit, never before experienced in a Springbok side but De Villiers and the Springbok team’s vulnerability and weakness is in Muir and he will just have to go.

His replacement needs to be by an experienced master backline coaching strategist and De Villiers and SA Rugby has an abundance of talent to choose from.

With Ian MacIntosh, Peter Jooste and De Villiers as the selection triumvirate, candidates for the replacement to prepare for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, are in abundance.

If there is a need — and it is clear that modern-day rugby requires modern-day futuristic thinking — bring in national coaching patriot specialists like Alistair Coetzee, Heyneke Meyer, Gert Smal, who are all familiar with the strategies of England, France, the All Blacks and Wallabies. Then if need be, hire coaching guns or technical specialists, like Sir Clive Woodward, Ian McGeechan, Bob Dwyer, who are all potent and formidable students in the roster of coaches and the required style to win the World Cup. In fact anyone of either a Kiwi (Mitchell), Aussie (Jones), British (Jason Leonard) and French/Italian (Mallett) technical coaching support team, will buttress the Springbok strategy and undermine those national sides, if these individuals care to be a part of this winning 2011 Rugby World Cup campaign. Mallett is an example, as he is taking Italy through to 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.

The Springbok team management needs to be overhauled and a rejuvenating programme implemented that can deliver a tight multi-dimensional attack and defence strategy for both the forwards and backs so that they peak like F-16 fighter pilots for the end-of-year tour and rigorous campaign leading up and into the 2011 Rugby World Cup campaign.

The decision is a hard one and De Villiers will have to have the courage and strength to make these wholesale changes to his support staff.

Then and only then will South African rugby be re-aligned and rejuvenated to deliver the results expected for the end-of-year tour and 2011 Rugby World Cup campaign.

This need not be a public execution or banishment into the wilderness as it is not about them but the pride of the national team so De Villiers better prepare a presentation that unleashes a swift and incisive deployment of world-class coaching talent.