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Stephen Nell | Columnist Index
Stephen Nell is a rugby writer based in Cape Town and works primarily for the Die Burger newspaper. He has been contributing to ESPNscrum since 2005.
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Out with the old
Stephen Nell
October 17, 2011
Peter de Villiers thinking over his game plan, Springboks training session, Wellington, New Zealand, September 14, 2011
De Villiers' reign as Springboks coach appears to be over © Getty Images
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Every Springbok fan would have heard or told a Bryce Lawrence-joke in the week after South Africa's ignominious World Cup quarter-final exit, but perhaps more than a few will gain a sense of perspective in weeks to come.

It is selection and execution on the field, and not the New Zealand referee, that gave rise to South Africa's downfall against the Wallabies. Lawrence does not select the Springbok team and, if he did, may well have picked Bismarck du Plessis and not the ageing John Smit at hooker. He may also have opted for the exciting Francois Hougaard on the left wing instead of an out-of-form Bryan Habana.

It was Jean de Villiers who floated a forward pass to Patrick Lambie when the Boks were through, and Danie Rossouw who conceded the penalty from which James O'Connor stepped up for the winning kick. Neither of those errors were committed by the referee. It's introspection rather than an outpouring of emotion that South African rugby requires.

The Springboks' World Cup campaign ended prematurely. They were probably one of the four best sides at the tournament, which was turned on its head with Ireland's Group C victory over Australia. Until their defeat to the Wallabies, the Boks were faring pretty well. They were below par against an outstanding Wales side and still finished on the winning side before clinical performances against modest opposition in Fiji and Namibia. Samoa's brutality knocked the Boks out of their stride, but they did enough to prevail 13-5 and top their group.

They were disciplined in arriving at that point and also appeared to have addressed the defensive woes of 2010. Furthermore, coach Peter de Villiers managed to go through the tournament without a major verbal gaffe.

De Villiers actually communicated his vision well and probably benefited from the clarity of thought that technical analyst Rassie Erasmus had brought to his backroom staff. The Bok coach also had a good media manager in Andy Colquhoun and this probably had an effect on what De Villiers said - or perhaps did not say - in public.

There was indeed much to praise, but ultimately the Boks paid the price for some poor selections, the lack of a cutting edge on attack and poor execution.

As far as selections are concerned, De Villiers is solely to blame. He demanded a change of the South African Rugby Union's constitution in 2008 for the right to be the sole selector. He declared Smit the world's premier hooker early in the tournament and stuck with a captain who sadly has tarnished his legacy.

As for the feeble backline play, one probably has to question the work of assistant coach Dick Muir. De Villiers did not fall on his sword after the quarter-final exit. His contract is merely coming to an end at the end of the year and he knows his time is up.

If he was quoted correctly in making himself available again, he was being fanciful. South Africa's World Cup campaign was a failure and after four years in charge it's time for him to make way for another candidate. The question is who that man will be. There have been reports that it will be one of Allister Coetzee, Gert Smal or Rassie Erasmus.

Smal is tied down to Ireland, which probably makes Coetzee the favourite. Erasmus, who is Western Province's director of coaching, is exceptional on the technical side, but has had mixed fortunes as a Super Rugby coach. He is a smart man, but hates the media glare and prefers just to coach. Coetzee, who works under Erasmus as Stormers and WP head coach, is a more easygoing character and well spoken. He is familiar with Erasmus, Springbok defence consultant Jacques Nienaber and has a close working relationship with Schalk Burger. The latter is probably the favourite to become the next Bok captain.

Heyneke Meyer, who controversially lost out to De Villiers for the Bok job in 2008, also has impressive credentials. However, he is masterminding a rebuilding of the Bulls dynasty now that a number of stalwarts have moved on and it remains open to debate whether he will be interested. Brendan Venter might also be a candidate, but his run-ins with the rugby establishment in England suggests that a consultancy role may be the best option. He is happy at his medical practice in the Cape and enjoys the work he does at Saracens.

Former All Black coach John Mitchell has already ruled himself out, but it's debatable whether a foreigner should even be considered for the role.

I would nominate Coetzee as the man. The country's top rugby brains will rally behind him and he deserves the recognition after leading the Stormers to a Super Rugby final in 2010 and a semi-final in 2011.

And, of course, South African rugby officials will sleep comfortably knowing that it's tried and tested cliché's coming out of his mouth.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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