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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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SARU has much to ponder
Stephen Nell
November 15, 2011

If the Western Province duo of Rassie Erasmus and Allister Coetzee are going to be part of a future Springbok coaching structure, the South African Rugby Union (SARU) has not been pro-active about engaging their employer.

There was a misguided report last week about WP supposedly advertising a position that fell under Erasmus's portfolio at the union. It was, in fact, an advertisement for a junior video analyst position - hardly something that should trigger speculation that Erasmus and Coetzee will shortly be on their way.

To clarify: Erasmus is WP's director of coaching and Coetzee the head coach. Coetzee has managed to coach the Stormers to a Super Rugby final in 2010 and a home semi-final this year.

Erasmus, who coached the Cape side in 2008 and 2009, has pulled the WP strings at structures from junior to senior level - away from the public glare that he dislikes. He was also the Springboks' technical analyst at the World Cup and notwithstanding the team's quarter-final did an outstanding job. Coetzee has achieved success at WP, even though it has not resulted in winning the trophy at either Super Rugby or Currie Cup level. There was a trophy for winning the South African conference in Super Rugby, but that was hardly what Cape rugby supporters craved.

To date SARU are only on record as saying the process will conclude at the end of the year. However, that may well be unlikely as the job has not yet been advertised. Furthermore, SARU has quietly extended coach Peter de Villiers's contract by a month in order to wrap up issues relating to the Rugby World Cup, as well as to cater for the need of public appearances and public relations issues. De Villiers' contract now expires at the end of January.

It is quite ironic as public relations will probably be high on the agenda when coming to appointing a new coach. De Villiers made a few too many media gaffes after being thrust into the spotlight not having had any meaningful experience in dealing with the Fourth Estate.

Coetzee may well head the list of candidates as he has a good coaching record and is very well-spoken. He puts a friendly face on every statement. Put it like this: If he tells you diplomatically to go to hell, you'll leave under the impression that he sincerely wishes for you to enjoy the ride. Furthermore, he was part of South Africa's World Cup-winning coaching team of 2007 and should have really been a very strong candidate to succeed Jake White.

There is also a case against Coetzee. While his PR skills appear to be strong, it has been so within the context of WP, who operate a very simplistic media policy where they mostly make only their coaches and captain available. Coetzee also suffers from the perception that it really is Erasmus who is in charge at WP. As a team they work for WP in terms of squad performance, but there will be some debate as to whether the situation should be replicated at a higher level.

However, there is a lot of merit in the idea of Erasmus being involved with any future management team. He prefers just to get on with coaching and strategic matters that relate to on-field performance - as such, he probably does not consider himself a candidate for the job of Springboks coach.

If Coetzee is considered a strong candidate, the same must probably apply to Bulls coach Frans Ludeke, who has delivered the trophies. His name has been a curious omission from the list of contenders, but the feeling is that he is a beneficiary of structures created by Heyneke Meyer.

Meyer himself should be discussed. However, it should be remembered that he was shafted the last time the job was up for grabs and it remains to be seen whether he will want to be part of a similar process again and on what terms he is prepared to accept the job. Ireland forwards coach Gert Smal, who was also part of the winning coaching combination in 2007, will also be a candidate. However, he is under contract.

SARU are yet to advertise the position, but there is also a strong feeling that they should head hunt the man they want and move quickly. If, for example, Coetzee is interested in the job, it will be embarrassing for him with his current employer if he had to apply and not get the job. Should SARU want to employ him in the new year, it will also leave WP in a precarious position as the Stormers will find themselves sans a coach on the eve of the Super Rugby season.

The time span of Super Rugby also means it will be impossible to conclude an agreement where the new Bok coach only takes up a position once the tournament finishes. Super Rugby only concludes in the first week of August and includes a break to allow for incoming tests against Northern Hemisphere teams. So ultimately it's a very tricky situation that Saru have to negotiate before they get their man.

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