New Springbok coach Coetzee faced with major challenges

Johannesburg (AFP) - Allister Coetzee was named South Africa rugby coach on Tuesday and tasked with changing the racial mix of the team and rediscovering a winning culture.

Twice world champions, the Springboks lost to New Zealand in the World Cup semi-finals last year and five defeats in 11 Tests included stunning beatings from Argentina and Japan.

South Africa often fielded starting teams containing 12 white players, much to the anger of the government and sections of the public who want a team more reflective of the population.

Nine percent of South Africans are white, yet they have dominated national rugby teams since the post-apartheid readmittance to the Test arena.

A national rugby union and government agreement targets half the South African 2019 Rugby World Cup team in Japan being black.

Coetzee is the second black Springboks coach, following in the footsteps of Peter de Villiers, who was in charge between 2008 and 2011.

"When a player is selected he must understand where he fits into the team, regardless of colour," the new coach told reporters after his appointment was confirmed at a Johannesburg TV studio.

"When we select a player we look with one pair of glasses. I need to back every player that we select, it is not about race.

"We must be smarter in the way we use our physicality and put a lot of emphasis on decision makers, especially nine (scrum-half) and 10 (fly-half)."

The enormity of the task facing the 52-year-old former scrum-half was evident last weekend when only 20 of 75 South African starters in Super Rugby were black.

Further narrowing the options for Coetzee was the fact that 70 percent of those players operate in just three positions: eight were wingers, three were loosehead props and three were centres.

Robbed by apartheid of a chance to play for South Africa, Coetzee chose teams during six years in charge of the Cape Town-based Western Stormers that were close to 50 percent black.

His legacy lives on with the Stormers fielding six black starters last weekend, Southern Kings five and Coastal Sharks, Golden Lions and Northern Bulls three each. Central Cheetahs had a bye.

Coetzee left Stormers last year to join Japanese club Kobelco Steelers.

- Fearless -

Being chosen for one of the toughest jobs in world rugby in succession to Heyneke Meyer fulfils a life-long ambition for the man born in Eastern Cape university town Grahamstown.

He was an assistant to Jake White when South Africa won the Rugby World Cup in France nine years ago, then lost out to De Villiers for the top job.

South Africa begin a Test season in June with three home internationals against Ireland.

The Springboks then meet Argentina, Australia and New Zealand home and away in the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship.

An end-of-season tour starts against the Barbarians in London followed by Tests against England, Wales and to-be-named opponents.

Coetzee developed a love of rugby from his father and brother and was a fearless scrum-half, fond of blind-side breaks.

But he never achieved the ultimate goal of every South African rugby player -- to represent the Springboks -- because blacks were barred under a racially segregated sport system.

As apartheid collapsed in the early 1990s and rugby bodies united, Coetzee played for and coached his native Eastern Province and also had roles at the Cats (now Golden Lions) and Sharks.

His big break came in 2008 when named Western Province Currie Cup coach and two years later was also put in charge of sister team Western Stormers as well.

Under Coetzee, Stormers became the leading South African side in Super Rugby, but could not break the trophy-winning stranglehold of Australian and New Zealand outfits.

While widely praised for developing black talent, Coetzee faced constant criticism for overly defensive tactics.

"Coetzee is the right man for the Bok job. He has the thick skin, the technical knowledge and desire to make a difference," wrote John Goliath of the Independent Newspapers group.

Colleague Mike Greenaway was not convinced, though: "Stormers were unable to take the step up and mix it in the Super Rugby play-offs.

"So what will change when Coetzee takes over the Boks?"

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