Allister Coetzee © Gallo Images
It was never meant to be an overnight fix, but Springbok coach Allister Coetzee appears to feel that he is already benefitting from the process that started with the national coaching indaba that took place in Cape Town just a few days after one of his lowest moments in 2016.
Coetzee always planned to call together all the franchise coaches and chief executives for the purpose of instilling a unified sense of purpose in the quest to overcome the obstacles that were keeping South African rugby back. But the big defeat to the All Blacks that ended the Rugby Championship season on such an abjectly humiliating note did intensify the urgency of the delegates at the indaba, which took place at a Cape Town hotel in mid-October.
There were follow up meetings in December, and there were agreements on principle on how key aspects of the coaching and preparation of South Africa’s top players should be carried out. Coetzee, speaking in Stellenbosch during the second national camp that he has called to help him and his management team prepare for the June series against France, says he has already felt the effects of the indaba.
“The things that were discussed at the indaba are starting to be carried through,” said Coetzee.
“It has been helpful to us as we prepare for the French series and the coming international season. It was never necessarily about for instance getting all the franchises to agree on implementing the same defensive systems, but definitely to agree on defensive principles. That is happening and starting to come together and it is making my job easier.”
One of the biggest steps forward though has been the movement towards a more uniform conditioning programme that will ensure that Coetzee doesn’t have to worry about the fitness of his players when they come into camp at the start of the international season or at the beginning of a tour or competition.
“We had meetings late last year where we looked at things like injuries and the conditioning of the players. We are working on a national conditioning strategy at the moment, and I think everyone is seeing the effects of that.
“It has been noticeable in Super Rugby how the intensity and physicality of the play has been lifted. Everyone is talking about the game between the Sharks and the Lions in Johannesburg at the weekend. That match was top quality from several aspects and quite an eye opener.
“And look at the pace that the Stormers have injected into their game. What is particularly impressive is the pace at which the ball is coming back from the breakdowns and with which possession is being turned over. That can only be done if the players are exceedingly well conditioned.”
However, Coetzee was careful to warn that Super Rugby was not a complete preparation for test match rugby, and the one-on-ones held with individual players during the camps held during Super Rugby would go some way towards alerting the players to what they need to be aware of and thinking about.
“The objective now is for us to beat the French and we must do whatever that takes to get that right,” said Coetzee.
“That is one of the things I am stressing in the one-on-ones with players. That is something we are getting down to now and which we were unable to do last year. We need to talk about strategy and in a way that will make sure it is not a vague thing and the players will arrive at the June series knowing what they need to do.
“It is noticeable at the moment in Super Rugby that there is not much of an aerial battle going on. But you can be sure that when the players get to international level that is what they will face. You can’t suddenly go into the French series and be surprised by that, deal with the aerial stuff for the first time. We need to be prepared.”