‘Profoundly disappointing season’ prompts Bok shake-up


No sooner had Wales beaten South Africa 27-13 in Cardiff to end a wretched 2016 for the Springboks then the president of SA Rugby announced plans for a review and governance overhaul.

Saturday’s result, just South Africa’s third defeat by Wales, saw the Springboks post an eighth loss in 12 Tests in 2016 — their worst record for a full season since their return from apartheid-induced isolation.

This year also saw the twice world champions suffer their heaviest home loss of all time in going down 57-15 to New Zealand in Durban in October, while last week’s 20-18 reverse in Florence was their first defeat by Italy.

“It has been a profoundly disappointing season in terms of results and we are acutely aware that we have failed to live up to the Springboks? proud heritage,? said SA Rugby president Mark Alexander.

“Our number one priority is a turnaround strategy for the Springbok team, and that will be looked at immediately and decisively.”

– ‘Tough decisions’ –

This latest reverse added to the pressure on Springbok coach Allister Coetzee, who took over after last year’s World Cup in England — a tournament where the Springboks finished third after suffering a shock loss to Japan in arguably rugby union’s greatest upset.

Alexander warned against a “knee-jerk” reaction but also said “that if tough decisions have to be made, we will not shy away from making them.”

Significantly, Alexander added the policy of letting overseas players be available for Test selection would be reviewed, with a proposal to let private investors take stakes in South Africa’s Super Rugby franchises also up for debate.

There are some 300-400 South African players currently with overseas clubs.

World champions New Zealand effectively refuse to select overseas-based players while England, second behind the All Blacks in the world rankings, only do so in “exceptional circumstances”.

The aim in both cases is to maintain domestic standards while allowing the national coach as much access as possible to his Test match players.

Coetzee, speaking at a post-match news conference, said a shake-up was needed.

“We obviously live in a country where results are important for the national team and I am definitely not proud about the way this season has gone — it’s way below what is expected of the Springbok team.

“But hopefully it’s the start of a greater time and place to get SA Rugby back on track again — not fix the cracks but make sure we fix it from the core.”

However, that still leaves the issue of a weak rand that makes an overseas stint so tempting for many South African players.

“I am pleased there will have to be a firm decision on what we do with our overseas-based players versus our home-based players,” said Coetzee.

“You’ve got to weigh up more time spent with the same team, compared to a team that comes in a week before a Test.

“But we will have to be creative in some ways — it’s difficult to compete against the pound and the euro — to retain players in our country,” he added.

– ‘Positively bold’ –

For all their problems, South Africa were within a converted try of Wales at 13-20 down with 10 minutes to go after debutant Uzair Cassiem crossed.

Wales’s starting XV boasted 811 caps compared to the Springboks’ mere 260.

But Wales coach Rob Howley, whose side sealed victory thanks to Justin Tipuric’s 75th-minute try, backed Coetzee’s decision to field a side featuring three debutants.

“Allister was positively bold in his selection by giving young players the opportunity to play international rugby — from a coach’s perspective that is a really good decision because you learn from playing against world-class players,” said Howley.

“At 20-13 with five minutes to go it is anyone’s game.

“We were a little bit more clinical and maybe were able to get over the line because we had the experience.”

© 2016 AFP

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