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What? It’s his first Test! Give him time! He’s trying a new style! The new young players are still learning! Toetie will transform us!
Before I rant, let me me first say that the Irish were magnificent, brave, and smart, in their first win on South African soil. Jack McGrath, Paddy Jackson, Rory Best and the rest: absolute men, who never gave an inch and fought like lions. I felt they were hard done by the red card given by a shaky novice referee whom nobody understood, but I don’t want to bog down on that issue, because in the end, the referee missed a lot on both sides and all the red card did was make their victory more noteworthy.
So let us examine the apologists’ argument for our new coach being given a (big, green, hairy) Mulligan.
Allister Coetzee has known he would be the Springbok coach ever since Heyneke Meyer failed to erase the Brighton loss to Japan with what would have been a lucky win in the World Cup semi-final. His appointment was backroom-cleared ages ago. He has been working with all the senior players he chose, for many months.
‘Toetie’ knows the capabilities of the players he chose, some of them were his actual pupils in Cape Town for years. No coach knows Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw better than Coetzee, he is their mentor and friend. They captained his teams at Western Province.
He was a mentor to Elton Jantjies. He is almost like a surrogate father to the kid. If he wanted Jantjies to kick more than six times in a Test match, he should have made that clear at half-time or using the water boy. Instead, after the match, Coetzee said Jantjies departed from the game plan, which was (he announced) to chip over the Mike Farrell-designed rush-drift (or was it a drift-rush) defence.
Toetie’s New Boks kicked the ball only fourteen times. That was twenty times fewer than the short-handed Irish.
Eight kicks by Bok flyhalves (the two by Pat Lambie before he was knocked out by an accidental hip to the head were very good), five by scrumhalves, and one by the fullback.
‘Toetie’ was a scrumhalf. He picked three scrumhalves for his squad with a total of two caps. That’s a big call. But it was his call, and nobody should bail him out, now.
Faf de Klerk kicked the ball five times at Newlands. ‘Box kicks,’ as they are often called, and Lwazi Mvovo chased and caught three of them. It seemed a tactic that worked to disrupt the Irish defence.
Faf was one of the better players in white on the day. He missed a few reads in the red zone which a more seasoned halfback would probably have seen. But he was good, and he was better – at first – than Conor Murray, who is one of the best scrumhalves in the world, I think. Murray improved throughout the game, until his odd decision to give the Boks one more crack at the line.
Why did Coetzee pull Faf out, while Murray played the full 80 minutes? Was Faf tired? He did not look it.
So, if the Coetzee game plan was to kick more, and Lambie and Faf followed it, but Jantjies did not, why pull Faf out?
The Irish mauled better than the Boks with seven forwards against seven and against all eight. Is this not something Coetzee and his forwards coaches Johann van Graan and Matthew Proudfoot have studied since last October? Van Graan was there for the Dublin slaughter. Might he have shared some wisdom with the team?
Was Coetzee surprised by Devin Toner’s choke tackle? Was this news to him?
He said at halftime that the Boks were running too upright into the arms of the tallest player on the field. Did he convey that information to the five Boks who repeated that behaviour for the twenty minutes after oranges?
Was he speaking in the language they understand?
If Coetzee’s new style for the Boks is to chip a rush-drift defence (which is it?) how is that going to lead to 4-try averages as Heyneke Meyer managed in his first two years? If his game plan isn’t followed by young men he mentored, will we just play headless chicken ball? Rather than Jakeball, will we play Fakeball?
Who was our captain on Saturday? I’m not sure. To me, it looked like we had a guy giving speeches to the nonplussed referee and his colleagues and none of those lectures had the desired effect.
At the breakdown, Louw won a turnover. Then, nothing. And only a few slowed balls. What’s Coetzee’s plan for the breakdown if he has Siya Kolis and Warren Whiteley running around in the second half at Ellis Park?
If we play a ‘ball in hand’ style, and we knock on 22 times a game, we better have a damn good scrum. I think a Bok scrum should be able to steamroll a 7-man pack. Maybe even win a penalty try.
Did Proudfoot measure the plane, force, fulcrum, and power of our scrum? Was it at top of the dial? A scrum can be near-perfected by a guru if he has the eight best front rowers in South Africa for two weeks. Maybe Malcolm Marx was the best hooker in South Africa and maybe Bismarck du Plessis was the best in Europe this year. I wonder if either of them would’ve been as passive as the one we had – forgot his name, momentarily – scrumming carefully and carrying the ball into Toner’s long arms.
But what could Toetie do? Throw the replacement hooker in at the 75th minute to throw over Toner and Henderson? Probably not. Our replacement hooker is the worst lineout thrower in Super Rugby. And he’s throwing to targets like Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth, who have 20 lineout steals between them, which laps most teams by 10. Bongi is bad at throwing. A hooker has to throw.
And what of Damian de Allende and Lionel Mapoe, the vaunted new midfield replacement that was going to change everything, post-Meyer, and auger a novel attacking verve?
Well, Meyer’s midfield rotated between Jan Serfontein, de Allende, Jesse Kriel, and Jean de Villiers. If he was coaching the Boks still, I suspect de Allende’s horrible form in Super Rugby would have caused him concern.
Not Toetie. He never called up another option after Serfontein was found to have a broken wrist – he had played with it like that for weeks – put Kriel on the bench, threw in Mapoe next to de Allende, and hoped de Allende would suddenly find form, and throw a decent pass.
Someone was getting Mapoe into space at the Lions. He didn’t just magically create it.
How is Toetie’s plan – Mapoe instead of Kriel – that amazingly different from Meyer’s?
Meyer had a few flaws, and one of them was to stick to pre-planned substitution timetables. He didn’t seem to notice the actual events on the field, and would throw in a front row for a 5 metre scrum with the score tied at 70 minutes or stick with a flyhalf who was struggling for 75 minutes. Is Coetzee more of the same?
At Brisbane, Eddie Jones made a quick hook to put George Ford in when he saw, after only twenty minutes that what he wanted was not happening in the midfield. Steve Hansen brought in Beauden Boyo Beating Bastard Barrett (also Bok-beating) for one of his superstars early, too.
Toetie is not an assistant coach. He leads the Boks. Why can’t he see that, for instance, we need two playmakers on the field in a particular game? Why can’t he see that de Allende has lost his timing, his confidence, and his pass to the right?
And let’s talk about the blindside. On two clear try-scoring opportunities, the Toetie Boks went blind and went nowhere. Is that the new plan? In Test rugby, you go blind to keep them honest as you probe, and you create space to switch. Defences are too good to squeeze much in there on the blindside if you are five metres out, pinned up against touch. Especially when the other team is one or two men down, why would you want to attack the only space that’s not spacious?
Coetzee is now saying, I see, that the ‘gap’ between the Hemispheres has closed. Really?
Since the World Cup, during club rugby, in which about 250 South Africans played in the wrong hemisphere, and no Tests were played, the gap closed.
The only reason that could have caused that is coaching.
Pull your socks up, Toetie.
Lose a series to the Irish and you should be sacked. No excuses.
Get it done.