PRINCIPALITY STADIUM, Cardiff — Siya Kolisi mounted a heartfelt defence for the Springboks’ underfire coach Allister Coetzee in the wake of their defeat to Wales as speculation continues over his long-term future in charge of South Africa.
Coetzee was bullish after he saw his side fall to their fourth defeat of the year and when asked what needs to change to turn South Africa back into a feared Test side, he bemoaned individual errors, but highlighted their penalty count of just three against Wales as a sign of improvement.
There was no recognition of the noise around his future, with reports suggesting his time as Boks coach will not continue beyond this year. But he was defiant, as he was earlier in the week.
“I am signed for 2019 – that is what my contract says,” Coetzee said. As Coetzee batted back all manner of queries over his short and long-term future with South Africa, Kolisi — the Boks’ vice-captain — sat, listening to his national coach and the man he used to play for at the Stormers.
And then when asked how easy it is to block out the background noise over their coach’s future, he spoke uninterrupted for just over two minutes as he praised Coetzee’s role in the team’s development in 2017.
“We have a great coach,” Kolisi said. “It was a tough year last year and we play in a country where rugby means a lot to us. From last year to this year, our coach has bitten the bullet for us. Every time we do well, it’s all about the players, it becomes about how amazing we are. As soon as something bad happens, it’s the coach, he’s not good enough to coach and all that.
“From where we came from last year, he’s done a great job. He sat us down and spoke to the players and asked what we wanted. We got changes. It wasn’t an easy road for him. It was tough for us as players to adapt to coaches coming and going. It was tough for us, he took the bullet for us.
“The results are much better than last year. We’re never satisfied with a loss, it rips through the players. He speaks to us as a team, he doesn’t expect defeat and just wants us to get better. Today there was maturity, the Welsh team was more mature than us.
“The way we fought back, he wasn’t panicking, he makes us believe every time we step on the field. We didn’t panic, we weren’t scared. It was tough for us to lose our captain, but the boys adapted. He told us not to panic, and believe in ourselves.”
Coetzee sat with arms folded, probably proud of his vice-captain, but also evaluating a year which has finished with seven wins from 13, four defeats and two draws. The next date circled in the calendar is Dec. 13 for SARU’s next general council meeting.
One way or another Coetzee’s future will be debated there — either with a re-iterated confidence in what he is doing as Boks coach or a call for change. But he is adamant they are on the upward curve.
“If you are looking at outcomes only, then you are missing the plot completely,” Coetzee said. “You have to create opportunity for development. If you want to look for superstars to come and win every Test match, then you’re living in a fool’s paradise.
“You have to give players an opportunity to grow and to develop, that’s it. You cannot expect to build Rome in one day. Last year was a fiasco, we started from scratch this year. This was year one, with a new team. I have the best players in South Africa playing here. I know I’ve get that. I know these players are much better conditioned last year.
“With a little bit of collaboration that we have, there’s progress and I’m positive about that. If you continue to look at the negatives, then you get what you’re looking for and you can write what you want about that. This side is on the up.”