Killing the opposition with kindness is the oldest trick in the sports PR book but Allister Coetzee’s respect for Ireland seems genuine given the Springbok head coach has labelled Joe Schmidt’s side as the northern hemisphere’s All Blacks.
High praise, indeed.
“They are a quality side and it’s almost close to your All Blacks side in Europe,” he said in Dublin … “They have a great coaching staff. Joe (Schmidt) is a great guy, a really good coach, and (Andy) Farrell his defence coach is really astute.”
There was some confusion when Coetzee seemed to suggest that Ireland had beaten New Zealand three times out of the last four and a suspicion that maybe his bold assertion about the Irish had been based on faulty facts.
Not the case. It was clarified later that he had been referring specifically to Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton: the half-back pair have lost only one of their last four games with New Zealand with Ireland and the Lions.
What was clear was his opinions on the Munster nine and Leinster 10.
“Top class mate, top notch. It’s great to have a half-back pairing as your spine. They’re world-class players. They know what they’re doing, they know how to kick, to pass the ball, great core skills. They’re class acts, but we can’t just focus on Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton — there are other great players as well.
“It’s important to understand where the onslaught will come, the attack, and how to stop that. For me, momentum is generically what you want in a game so you must be able to deal with their big ball carriers. You have to be able to deal with Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton’s aerial bombardment and then from broken play and counter-attack they can be very, very dangerous.”
Innovative was another word used to describe an Irish side whose last experience of the Boks was the Test series in South Africa in the summer of last year which the tourists lost 2-1. That remains a major regret for Schmidt & Co.
Both squads have evolved considerably since — Schmidt infusing his with a healthy dose of new blood while Coetzee has had to contend with a slew of injuries on the back of a domestic season and the recently completed Rugby Championship.
The Bok squad arrived in Ireland in two blocks over the weekend and the travelling party is at least in rude health. Lock and captain Eben Etzebeth (ankle) and flanker Uzair Casseim (rib) have both trained and been declared eligible for Saturday’s game at the Aviva Stadium.
Another man available to the cause this week and next is Johann van Graan who will continue in his role as assistant coach for this game and the follow-up against France before starting life as Munster’s head coach from there on in.
It will be his first head coach role and Coetzee is adamant he is ready and able.
“He has been massive (for South Africa) and besides his tactical info and coaching ability he is a good person as a human being. He has been doing a good job for the Springboks over the last few years. It will be a big loss to the Springboks but a massive gain for Munster.”
The 54-year old was more reticent when talk turned to Rassie Erasmus who has now finished up with Munster and will soon begin his new role as South Africa’s director of rugby. The consequences of that appointment for Coetzee’s tenure remain unclear.
“Probably next year,” he said when asked if there were plans to meet Erasmus this week.
Coetzee survived a difficult first season in the job after being appointed in 2016 and, though there has been improvement this term, he has still lost more games (10) as coach than he has won (9) and with a record 57-0 loss to the All Blacks thrown into that mix.
His Boks lost three of their four autumn Tests this time last year, including one to Italy, but Coetzee gave the impression yesterday that he has taken heed of what was a steep learning curve as he plots for this latest four-game trip.
“I was worried about our conditioning and this time around I don’t have that sort of fear at all. We understand that you cannot come here with that southern hemisphere mindset and try to play in the northern hemisphere, so we have to adapt.”
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