The 2014 Super Rugby season will be better forgotten sooner, rather than later, for most Stormers supporters. The season’s results were indicative of a team low on confidence who were playing an outdated style of rugby, which had seen numerous questions being raised over the coaching staff’s aptitude. Although marred by injuries, the team’s positive run of form toward the end of the season – barring perhaps their most recent match against the Sharks – has shown that perhaps a corner has been turned and therefore a glimmer of hope for the future is somewhat, encouragingly, visible. The question is, however, where to for the Stormers and WPRU from here?
This past weekend’s loss to the Sharks answered more questions than perhaps we as Stormers fans wanted. The manner in which the Sharks shut the high-riding Stormers down was a sobering realisation that the all is not so rosy at The Hallowed Grounds of Newlands. The fact remains that despite an obvious change in mindset, due to Gert Smal’s inclusion in the WPRU brains trust, the rot of a failed regime lingers within the change room.
For large portions of the match, the Stormers were simply not present and I found myself questioning whether match fees were warranted. It was the same technically correct, yet boring, rugby we have seen from this outfit for the past five years and whilst it was the players who implemented the game plan, the blame must be placed purely on the shoulders of Allister Coetzee, Robbie Fleck and Matthew Proudfoot.
For season’s now, these three have stuck by their inability to coach entertaining rugby, often times finding excuses in the most bizarre places. What is most frustrating with the three of them is that they have never once taken the blame for completely and utterly destroying Western Province’s reputation as a try-scoring institution whilst at the same time allowing any potential junior talent to leave The Hallowed Grounds of Newlands in search of game time and tries. Yes it is important to have a solid defence and yes it is of the utmost importance to play your rugby in the right areas of the field, but what good is all of that when you coach the flair out of your players and are stuck with a team who posses a serious case of white line fever?
Often times in the recent past – and most notably during this season – Allister Coetzee has bemoaned the amount of injuries which the Stormers have had to endure. I agree that injuries make a difference and can potentially cripple any campaign of its star players, however they do form part of the sport. Rugby is a contact sport and injuries go hand-in-hand with it. The key is to develop a squad who can handle the loss of one or two key players and make sure that the campaign does not suffer at the hands of unplanned injuries. This squad should consist of up-and-coming youngsters who show the flair of youth and a core group of senior level players who firstly, understand and live the ethos of the rugby union and secondly, can guide their junior teammates down the correct path of life, whether that be on or off the pitch.
From Man United to Real Madrid, to the Crusaders and the Bulls, the most successful sports teams have always had an incredible depth in their junior ranks. WPRU has this. Their Rugby Academy in Stellenbosch is on of the top academies for junior rugby players in the country, whilst the talent which walks through its doors on a yearly basis, thanks to the thriving schoolboy rugby scene in the Western Cape, would make you think that depth in quality is not an issue in the fair Cape.
Why then does Al Coetzee and co. constantly sign players who have not put in the hard yards through their junior systems? Pat Cilliers, Michael Rhodes, Manuel Carizza, Sailosi Tagicakibau and Jaco Taute are such players in the current squad, whilst players such as Martin Bezuidenhoudt, Deon Caarstens, CJ van der Linde, Eusibio Guinazu, Elton Jantjies, Burton Francis, Willem De Waal, Tony Brown, Frikkie Welsh, Gerhard van den Heever and Sireli Naqelevuki have all donned the Stormers jersey at some point or another in the recent past. Whilst their is a degree of loyalty which should be given to a homegrown player I am not suggesting that WPRU should never look outside of its borders for talent. Bob Skinstad, Jaque Fourie and Bryan Habana are testament to this. However, the fact remains that the culture of a union is learnt through its junior systems and polished at its senior. Players brought up in Johannesburg or Durban will struggle to truly embrace another unions culture.
What sort of shape would junior players, the likes of Quinn Roux, Donovan Armand, Nick Fenton-Wells, Nick Koster, Marcel Brache, JP du Plessis, Michael van der Spuy, Johan Sadie Danie Poolman and Timo Swiel – to name but a few – be in, had they been given the trust of the senior coaches instead? Where would the depth in WP Rugby be if these youngsters had been given one or two more seasons experience with the Stormers?
Unfortunately Allister Coetzee has run out of excuses. He has single-handedly torn Western Province Rugby to the ground and yet he shows no remorse and truly believes that he is right and we are wrong. In his mind, the reason for yet another horror season is injuries and the schedule. Both of which are out of his hands and therefore he cannot shoulder the blame for the poor season. This is an unacceptable approach as a professional coach and in any other sporting code, Al Coetzee would be forced to fall on his sword.
And yet I find myself doubting whether WPRU will make a change to the current coaching staff, which is as worrying a thought as any.
As cynical as it may sound, during the second half of this season when the Stormers were experiencing a revival of form and results, I found myself questioning whether said form was good for WP Rugby in the long run? As much as I like winning, I felt that if we ended the season on a positive note, that the likelihood of Al Coetzee keeping his job would be good and that the pain of the first half of the season would be overlooked due to a positive finish.
What the future holds for Allister Coetzee is out of my hands. It never was in my hands. As a member of The Faithful, I feel it my right to express my dissatisfaction with the current coaches at WPRU. In my opinion they have failed us and yet stubbornly refuse to see their own faults.
You stay classy,