CAPE TOWN – Allister Coetzee is beginning to look far more at home in his role as Springbok coach after a successful 2017 so far, but he still considers this to have been the toughest period of his rugby career.
The knives were out after Coetzee and the Boks limped to just four wins from 12 in 2016, but in 2017 they have won five and drawn one and have moved back up into the top three in the world rankings.
Things are starting to look up, but there will far greater understanding of just how much the Boks have improved after Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash against the All Blacks in Albany.
At this stage of last season, the Boks had just gone down 23-17 to the Wallabies in Sydney and they were then smashed 41-13 by the All Blacks in Christchurch the next weekend.
It got worse as Coetzee watched his side beaten 57-15 in record fashion by New Zealand in Durban before and end-of-year tour saw them lose to Italy and Wales.
After all of that, it was hard to Coetzee surviving.
Yet, with a new management team and a largely new group of starters, he appears to be on the right track this year.
Looking back, though, he is an open book when it comes to how testing this job has been.
“It has been,” he said when asked if the Bok job was the toughest period of his career.
“It’s been bloody challenging. Coaching at international level, especially with the rugby-mad supporters that we have, managing the moods of millions of people is never an easy job, but it comes with the job.
“I’m just pleased that we have changed it in a way.
“We made a few tweaks at the beginning of the year and our time for preparation in 2017 was really good with the camps we had pre the French series. We spent time on our team environment, which is a massive thing because we were a team in transition.”
That team culture, Coetzee says, has been one of the major keys to success this year while the improved physical state of the players has also been crucial.
“You can see how the players have started to enjoy the game,” he said.
“I’m also pleased to note that our players have never been in a better conditioning shape than they are now.
“I’m happy with where we are but we’re not there yet. We’ll test ourselves against the world’s best this weekend.”
Kick-off on Saturday is at 09:35 (SA time).
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Kane Hames
Substitutes: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown
15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth (captain), 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Handre Pollard, 23 Damian de Allende
PHOTO: Allister Coetzee (Gallo Images)