Allister Coetzee © Gallo Images
Springbok fans may well not like it but they may have to get used to a much more pragmatic Allister Coetzee at the helm of the national team this year.
Faced with the pressure of performing against the French in the three-test series in June and with constant rumours swirling that he is to be replaced after those tests should he fail, Coetzee hinted that there was only one way he is looking to play this year.
While in 2016 despite the pressures he dealt in platitudes of playing “entertaining rugby” - a charge the Boks displayed at times without often getting the reward, Coetzee this week at the Springbok camp leaned on a phrase that infuriated fans when his predecessor Heyneke Meyer continuously used it in his press conferences.
Meyer talked constantly about winning rugby, even though rugby fans wanted more entertainment from the team. In the end it became clear he could not satisfy both during his tenure.
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But now Coetzee has reiterated that it isn’t about growth, entertainment or anything else. The Bok coach believes what 2016 taught him is that test rugby needs to be won.
“You can never learn if you only win, so if we don’t learn from our situation last year, it will never be good enough,” he said this week.
“When we started against Ireland and we started with a group of players and we lost the first game, it was a massive disappointment - how could a South African team lose to the Irish on South African soil?
“That expectation was enormous. I know with the Boks it is a massive team, but when the Irish beat New Zealand we suddenly realised the Irish could play.
“What I’ve learnt is that every test match is really so vital to win, doesn’t matter who you play.
“We won’t underestimate any nation, but we have to deal with expectation, whether there are young players in the mix, we have to make sure we are 100 percent prepared for every game, test match rugby is about winning.
“It is not about entertaining, it is about winning. This is the view that I have, the philosophy that I have and it will stay like that.”
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While Coetzee reiterated he isn’t coaching now “with a gun against his head” when faced with the rumours of being replaced, he underlined the fact that everyone in the camp “has a gun against their head”.
“For every test match you go onto the field, there is a gun against your head to perform. For the players, for the management, there is a gun. It is important to win test matches.”
Still, after the lows of 2016, winning is the only priority now for Coetzee, and he believes that fans must see that the Boks “gave their all” on the field.
“Whenever the Springboks run out, I want the public to see them leave everything on the field. They must give their all. They must show how they respect the jersey and do it for their country,” he explained.
“Test matches - there is only one game plan, and that is winning rugby. The other part of the game plan will develop from there, but you have to build pressure in test match rugby. There are five areas where you build pressure. It is your kicking game, your setpiece, your breakdown and defence and I’d like us to get that balance right.
“I love the way our Super Rugby teams are playing now, they’re playing with ball in hand and that is great because their attacking skills are developing.
“But in test match rugby there has to be the right mix, because if you look at the scores, the balance sheet must be good. As much as we can attack, we should be able to defend.
“You cant win 70-40, you win 28-10 or whatever – we have to make sure the balance sheet is right.
“At test match level it is not as if you just simply dominate the setpiece and you get the ball all the time, you will have to work just as hard without the ball. That is what I can say, when we go out there we will leave nothing on the field, we will give everything.
“We understand the expectation, how important it is for our country to be successful.”
The Boks will have two more camps before they face the French in a three-test series in June.