Duane Vermeulen © Gallo Images
Springbok coach Allister Coetzee is going to leave no stone unturned in his search for someone to succeed Adriaan Strauss as team leader going forward.
Strauss captained the Boks for the duration of Coetzee’s abjectly disappointing first year in charge, but announced some time before the end of the season that it would be his last in international rugby. So Coetzee has had some time to mull over a successor, but he says he wants to use up every available moment to think about it and put certain criteria in place before making a decision and announcement in the week building up to the first test of the year against France.
Coetzee has confirmed that he will be calling on the help and expertise of psychologist Pieter Kruger, who was one of the mediators at the national coaching indaba in Cape Town last October, in making the choice of the next captain a thorough process that would take all the aspects of the challenge that faces a leader of the national team into account.
“We are looking at the captaincy issue and will have one in place the week before the first test against France,” said Coetzee.
“We are casting our net wider than normal and I have enlisted the help of Prof Pieter Kruger to look at making sure that all the criteria are met.”
Coetzee said that the captain would have to be a player who would be sure of his place in both the squad and the starting team. What he hasn’t made up his mind yet on though is whether he looks at the leadership in the here and now, which some accused him of getting wrong last year if Strauss was only going to be available for a year, or to look to the future by appointing a young captain.
The Bok coach’s deliberations in this regard could be directed by the attitude he takes to the question of overseas players being part of the Bok group. SA Rugby did settle on a qualification policy earlier this year, but Coetzee knows only too well after his experience in 2016 that it can’t just be a case of picking every overseas player who qualifies for selection on the basis of his number of international caps.
Most of the candidates for the captaincy are currently based overseas, with players such as Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw among those who might be considered for the role. There are not many experienced locally based leaders at present, with most of the franchises being led by young captains. The exception is the Lions, who have the experienced and accomplished Warren Whiteley at the helm, but will he be a certainty in the side if Vermeulen is available?
The other option is to groom a leader on the job, with 2019 and the next World Cup in mind.
“If we choose a locally based player to captain the team it might be a young guy who we know will be going to the Rugby World Cup. But just being captain doesn’t mean he will immediately get it right. He will make mistakes. What we will have to do is build around this young guy and make sure he has good leaders around him.”
The current Boks who are leaders of their franchise teams are Whiteley, the Cheetahs’ Francois Venter, the Sharks’ Pat Lambie (currently injured) and Siya Kolisi of the Stormers. It is possible to argue that none of those are selection certainties, so Coetzee could be looking at Handre Pollard, who led the Bulls before Strauss returned from injury.
Coetzee’s attitude towards the overseas players is the right one, and he has clearly not forgotten how some overseas based players looked rusty and off the pace when introduced back into the Bok team at various stages of last year. There is also the question of the more uniform conditioning requirements that have been put in place for his second season in charge.
“The more overseas players you have the more pressure you put on yourself. There is a fine line between having the right number of overseas players to boost experience and to have too many. In my book if an overseas based player is not the No 1 choice in his position, then I must look at home based players. However, if there is a player who can be part of the succession planning towards 2019, it is different.
“But even the overseas based players who are first choice in their positions have to be monitored in such a way that ensures that they don’t rock up not ready for test rugby. I have spoken to a number of them already. I have let them know if they tick the boxes in terms of well-being, and are the type of player we need to beat the French, then they will be selected. It does create a problem if you bring too many players in who are not part of what is happening back home.
“What I have pressed on the players is that if they want to play for the Boks, they have also got to be prepared to make sacrifices.”
Coetzee said that like the players based at home, the overseas based players would have to pass a conditioning test before they could be part of the Bok squad.
“Our conditioning coach has been in touch with their conditioning coaches overseas, and the players have all been informed of what is needed from them. When they come into camp they will do a conditioning test. If the player does not pass the test then he cannot be part of the squad. Every Bok has to undergo a conditioning test.”