#360view: Coetzee needs time to rebuild Springboks

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Allister Coetzee.

If you’re looking for symbolism from the All Blacks’ crushing 41-13 win over South Africa in Christchurch on Saturday, then witness Ardie Savea’s try on 55 minutes.

The 22-year-old flanker, making his first international start, collects Aaron Smith’s off-loan and powers over for a debut score with two Springboks – Eben Etzebeth and Faf de Klerk hanging onto his back.

All three represent the present and future of their respective countries but the end result perfectly illustrated the gulf that exists.

Whereas the world champions have seamlessly filled the void of losing iconic figures Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu, the Boks are still working out how to compensate for the loss of leaders Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and Jean de Villiers.

As coach Allister Coetzee bluntly concluded, New Zealand’s transition “has been very, very good, unlike in our case”.  Those assigned with forming the bedrock of the side – fly-half Elton Jantjies, scrum-half De Klerk, full-back Johan Goosen and lock Pieter-Steph du Toit hold just 41 caps between them. And it’s shown, with Coetzee adding, “maybe some players are not ready for this level yet.”

When Coetzee took over in April, he had a number of challenges to deal with in order to bring back the culture of how rugby is perceived in South Africa; focusing on restoring Springbok traditions such as the set piece and a granite-like defence to give the team an identity.

He hasn’t enjoyed much of a honeymoon period, though, as criticism has already centered around his defensive strategy similar, which eerily similar to the one he deployed with the Stormers for five seasons. If teams kick over the top, for example, then the defensive line can be easily breached.

A recurring problem against Argentina and Australia in their previous games was the habit of spreading the ball wide without creating any space. With 10 minutes to go against Australia in Brisbane last week, they were in sight of victory at 17-23, but a lack of experience and confidence saw them cough up possession when a try seemed inevitable.

Captain Adriaan Strauss should be telling his team-mates to hold on to the ball, play through the phases and do the simple things right under pressure. This all comes with experience as a collective unit, and game time against strong opposition is the only way to learn and rectify such mistakes.

The drop in performance over the last 12 months shouldn’t call for alarm bells just yet. Against the All Blacks they showed encouraging signs of improvement, but their overall decision-making, coupled with some inexcusable individual mistakes are restricting their position on the scoreboard.

When they move the ball through the middle of the field they looked dangerous with Etzebeth and Du Toit fending off opponents and making valuable yards. In attack, Bryan Habana and Goosen produce flashes of excellence but a team cannot capitalise on individual magic and need strong support runners outside the ball to threaten the opposition line.

From a leadership point of view, when Strauss were replaced after 45 minutes, they lost experience in the pack, and this led to the All Blacks scoring four tries in the last 30 minutes. In a situation like this, Etzebeth needs to prove why he is the best No4 in the world. He has 51 caps and has developed into an established figure after four years in a Boks jersey.

As the saying goes, “true leaders aren’t born, they’re grown over time” and the Rugby Championship is a platform for Coetzee’s inexperienced figureheads to improve. If they can focus on the traditional strengths and make their gameplan clearer, they can start to compete and evolve their attacking and defensive structures.

Eventually, they’ll close the gap on New Zealand, but for now they must build a combative gameplan and allow players to develop.

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