Rugby Union – Rugby Test – Ireland v South Africa – Johannesburg South Africa – 18/06/16. Allister Coetzee, South Africa’s national rugby team coach . REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Allister Coetzee vs SARU

To say that Allister Coetzee is a bit miffed at the moment, would be understating things, just a little. Somewhat like suggesting that some Japanese bombers and torpedo planes arriving over Pearl Harbour in 1941 was just the start of a mild disagreement between the USA and Japan.

Allister is not handling the termination of his employment as Springbok coach terribly well. He is angry, and is lashing out in every possible direction. He is certainly not going to leave quietly, and has written a 19-page letter to his employers accusing them of everything he can think of, including denying him the use of the kitchen sink.

He has accused South African Rugby’s leadership of deliberately trying to destroy his reputation and make him unemployable. He has vowed to fight for his dignity and his “hard earned reputation” as an international coach.

This letter, supposedly a private letter from Coetzee to SA Rugby’s CEO Jurie Roux, was somehow leaked to the media. Last weekend, TimesLive published excerpts the letter. South African Rugby confirmed the authenticity of the letter, though they refused to make any comment about it.

In his letter Coetzee offers up a host of excuses for his failure to produce a winning Springbok team, taking aim at SARU in the process, and blaming them for providing him with inadequate support.

I guess this was all rather predictable.

We knew that Allister’s time as coach was over. All that we did not know was when he would be told that it was over. Just 8 days ago I posted an article titled “The Poison Chalice” in which I also referred to two articles that I wrote back in 2016 when Allister was appointed to the Springbok job. (These articles are available in the Archive on the website.)

I quoted from one of those earlier articles:

“I have just one or two small questions: Did Allister Coetzee pick his own management team, or was the team imposed on him by SARU? Was there some political involvement in the appointment of Stick? Why has SARU waited until April to announce an appointment that the world had identified back in November last year?”

And I also quoted the following:

“As I see it at the moment, Allister Coetzee is a very very brave man. He should be given maximum support and every resource he could ask for, but that will not happen. Not in South Africa! The poor fellow is on a hiding to nothing!”

Now, I am no oracle, the outcome of Allister Coetzee’s term as Springbok coach was entirely predictable.

South African Rugby’s track record in their handling of the national coach is there for all to read. SARU is not known for supporting the man they hire to do the job. Everything the coach does or says is questioned. Coaches are called back from tours to come and account for themselves. Coaches have all kinds of demands imposed on them, and often find members of their management squad and media officers being appointed without their knowledge. Coaches are disposed of despite winning records and superb achievements. Coaches are never, ever, reappointed for a second term. Coaches are simply disposable assets to be treated with disdain.

Think back to the hiring and firing of Nick Mallett, despite his measurable record-breaking success on the field. Think back to the firing of Jake White in the days after he had won a World Cup. Think on the way Pieter de Villiers was disposed of. Or Carel du Plessis, or perhaps Ian MacIntosh. Even Heyneke Meyer was treated somewhat harshly when his time as coach was over.

So, the treatment meted out to Allister Coetzee should come as no surprise to him, or anyone else.

It is exactly what he should expect from the likes of Jurie Roux and the rest of the blazer-wearing gravy train passengers who rule the roost in South African Rugby. This is the arrogant and publically unaccountable way they run our game!

Much like the proverbial economist who always expresses an even-handed opinion. “One the one hand, this might happen, on the other hand, if that does not happen, then this will happen.”  I too, have a duality of opinion.

On the one hand, I have huge sympathy for Allister Coetzee.

There is no doubt that many of the issues he highlights in his 19-page letter are absolutely true.

Chief amongst his complaints is the delay in his appointment, giving him less than two months to gather together a new Springbok squad and prepare them to face Ireland.

He cites the fact that he had no influence over the selection of his own management team and assistant coaches. An untenable situation at best.

He suggests that the imposition of the 30-Test rule without any consultation,  caused serious selection problems as he could not pick certain younger players who had gone overseas.

Coetzee submitted a tabulated comparison between his management team and that of his predecessor, Heyneke Meyer. He points out the differences, such as the fact that he had four different Defence coaches, none of which he selected himself; he makes mention of the fact that the Team Manager no longer reported to him, the Head Coach, but directly to SARU, as did his Logistics Manager, the Team Doctor, the Strength & Conditioning Coach, the Media Manager, and the PR & Marketing Manager.

(Did you know that a Springbok team has so many managers?)

Allister goes on to mention that Heyneke Meyer had a number of psychologists on call, while he only had 1 available, albeit on a 7/365 basis.

He complains that he was not allowed the services of a Massage Therapist while Meyer was allowed one.

He also complains that he was not allowed his choice of team captain, as his preferred player was based overseas, and that he was forced to choose a captain who was based in South Africa.

Coetzee goes on about the lack of Training Camps in 2016, as none were planned by the previous Meyer regime.

The litany of complaints continues with issues about downgrading hotels, the lack of dietary services, the team flying Economy Class, via Doha, before their game against Ireland in 2017. He cites a Medical Submission about the detrimental effects of flying in Economy before the game, saying the Team Doctor’s advice was ignored by SARU, who apparently said the “Doc must focus on medical issues and leave logistics to relevant people.”

He adds that the release of Johan van Graan before the end of the 2017 tour to Europe was complete, was detrimental to the team and that he was not consulted in the process.

I can fully understand Allister Coetzee’s unhappiness with all of the above.

There is no doubt whatsoever that Coetzee was not given the same level of support as has been afforded previous Springbok coaches. There is also no doubt that SARU’s direct interference in the management of the team was unusual, at best, and indicates something of a lack of trust in the Head Coach.


Right there my sympathy for Coetzee comes to a dead stop.

The Letter

In his letter Allister Coetzee seeks to absolve himself for the poor performances of the Springbok team under his tutelage.

I am sorry, Allister, but you have to accept that your lack of a consistent and discernible game plan is your own fault and not the fault of anyone else. You have to acknowledge that your selection policies were strange and oft misguided, at best. Your persistence with out-of-form, or out-of-depth, players is almost legendary. Your persistence in selecting players out of position is your own fault entirely.

Your persistence with strange kicking tactics and disciplines, poor defence patterns and strategies, weird crash ball strategies, poor ball-receipt practices, and odd running lines cannot be blamed on SARU or anyone else. The Springbok stops with you.

And there can be no doubt that poorly motivated and badly prepared players are directly as a result of poor preparation and focus by the coach.

Look at the facts:

During Allister Coetzee’s two seasons in charge, the Springboks won just 11 out of 25 Tests, a 44% winning ratio, diametrically the opposite of Heyneke Meyer’s 66% winning ratio.

During his tenure as Bok coach, the Springboks lost to Italy for the first time ever, lost to the Argentinean Pumas for the first time, twice conceded 57 points to the All Blacks, suffered successive defeats against Wales, recorded two defeats against Ireland, including that record 38-3 thrashing in Dublin.

No matter the excuses offered, Allister Coetzee’s reign as Springbok Coach had to be terminated. He was simply incapable of producing a winning team, despite the pool of talented and motivated players available to him.

If this were the end of the story, I would wave farewell to Allister with the comment: “Sorry buddy, you tried, and failed. Just not good enough, step aside and give someone else a chance.”

However, this story does not end there.
Allister Coetzee has chosen to go out flinging as much mud as possible, at everyone within range.

We can understand that he is angry, bitter too.

He lashes out at Jurie Roux for the way he was told that his time was up. He is angered by the fact that his employment was terminated without a performance review at the end of 2017. (I am not sure that such a performance review would have been fun! It would certainly not have been approving of his performance!)

Coetzee tells of an “informal” meeting held in Cape Town on Thursday, 18 January 2018.

He says: “In the context of the engagements between you and I prior to the aforesaid meeting, it was made plain to me that the meeting would deal with the anticipated performance review and its procedures as contemplated by my employment contract.”

 “Instead, the meeting was used as a platform to inform me of SARU’s decision that it intends to, inter alia, terminate my contract of employment with immediate effect.”

 “You informed me that the decision was taken by Mark Alexander (the President of SARU), Francois Davids (the Deputy President) and James Stoffberg (the vice-president) and mandated you as the CEO of SARU to inform me of the decision.”

 “You further informed me that a further aspect of the decision is that my services will be terminated regardless of the outcome of the anticipated performance review, as contemplated by my employment contract, and, should I wish to remain in SARU’s employment, I will be reduced to a ceremonial coach, and further that Johan Erasmus has already been employed to replace me and is already performing the duties of the Springbok Coach.”

 “Should I be reduced to the position of a ceremonial coach I would have to face the indignity of reporting to Rassie.”

Coetzee went on to say that he would not allow elements in SARU to wilfully destroy him and render unemployable, as was done with former Bok coach Peter De Villiers.

He feels SARU’s conduct has infringed on his rights to dignity, equality and fair labour practices enshrined in the constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

“This is particularly so in light of the fact that it is common cause within SARU that it was always the intention to replace Heyneke Meyer with Rassie but SARU wanted to avoid any controversy based on race emanating from such appointment,”

He then plays the race card, and deploys a conspiracy theory too: –

“In order to avoid the controversy a stratagem has been devised to use me, as a person of colour, to mask the ultimate aim by offering me the Springbok coaching position, but that I would be starved of the necessary resources which would enable me to satisfactorily perform my duties.”

 “This would ultimately lead to my early exit and the eventual appointment of Rassie.”

Coetzee seems to think that he was being used as a pawn/fall guy to appease national politicians. “Look, we have had a black coach, and he failed….”

He lashes out at Rassie Erasmus too, suggesting that he is better qualified than Erasmus as a coach for the Springboks.

Coetzee continues to play the race card.

“The mischief which apartheid created in the context of rugby is recognised by SARU in its Transformation Charter.”

 “The stratagem devised by SARU, as explained aforesaid, offends the Transformation Charter of SARU. Firstly, it is distasteful, to say the least, to use me, as a black South African, as a pawn in a manner which can only be described as deeply reprehensible.”

 “The stratagem is clearly, in my view, unconstitutional because it infringes my right to dignity and equality. It also aims to defeat, in an unconstitutional manner, the ideals and values entrenched in the Constitution.”

He does add that he knows that some of those who want to get rid of him and also “persons of colour”:

“The fact that those who mandated you to inform me of SARU’s decision are persons of colour makes it even more regrettable.”

 “Notwithstanding SARU’s clear commitment to adhere to its Transformation Charter and its stated intention to eradicate discrimination on any grounds, Rassie’s appointment, with respect, does not give effect to transformation of rugby in general.”

I am not sure that the race card sticks quite so easily when one looks at the governance structures of SARU. The Executive Council includes Mark Alexander as President, Francois Davids as Vice President, Ilhaam Groenewald, Monde Tabata, Tobie Titus, Pat Kuhn, and Vivian Lottering, all of whom are what Coetzee terms “persons of colour” and who represent a clear racial majority in the Council.

In addition, the Executive of SARU consists of three people, Jurie Roux the CEO, Abubakar Saban the CFO, and Vanessa Doble the Company Secretary. Two of the three would also be what Coetzee terms “persons of colour.”

I fail to understand how Allister Coetzee could suggest that SARU is “perpetuating the mischief of apartheid” when the governance structures are dominated by people who were previously the victims of some of apartheid’s worst iniquities.

Coetzee also makes an attempt to play the Constitutional card:

“Your conduct deeply offends my rights and perpetuates the mischief which the Constitution seeks to correct (i.e. the apartheid policy and legislation).”

 “It is astonishing that SARU had mandated you to inform me that they plan to reduce me to a ceremonial coach who must answer to Rassie who, with respect is a lesser qualified coach.”

 “This conduct by SARU is unbecoming and has infringed upon my right to dignity, equality and fair labour practices.”

 “This conduct is tantamount to ‘fronting’. This goes against my moral fibre and grain. It is also unconstitutional. I will in no uncertain terms be exploited in this manner and reduced to a ceremonial coach and betray the values and ideals enshrined in our Constitution which was not easily achieved and was realised through the efforts of those who came before me.”

 “My submissions in this regard are made with the view of correcting the mischief created by apartheid for the benefit of future generations. SARU’s decision perpetuates the injustices of the past.”

He goes on to make a number of wild accusations:

“In my view, the only thing that has changed is that the unlawful stratagem to appoint Rassie has been implemented and expedited.”

 “It is apparent to me now that my appointment as the Springbok coach was made with an ulterior motive resulting in me being duped into leaving my employment in Japan.”

 “To add insult to injury the call from SARU was made in circumstances where I had to choose between my personal well-being and the need to serve my country as the head coach of the Springboks (only to be later told that I will be a ceremonial coach).”

 “I wish to reiterate and record that I was and am still being treated fundamentally and prejudicially differently from Meyer and Jake White. This has been conveyed to yourself [Roux] on several occasions for which I have received no support on.”

 “It is apparent that in implementing the stratagem I am being used as cannon fodder.”

He also had a go at SARU for allowing Erasmus to recruit coaching staff without consulting him first. (He does not ask whether the people recruited by Erasmus are to staff his office as Director of Rugby.)

“Clause 5.4.1 of my employment contract states that it is essential for the Coach and the Management Team and Support Team to be able to work closely together on a personal and professional level, the following shall be appointed by and contracted to SARU ‘in consultation with COETZEE’, who will have the decisive decision.”

 “I have never been approached or consulted. Unless Rassie has been recruiting personnel for the rugby department and will not form part of the ancillary personnel and management, such steps taken are in breach of my contract of employment. I must be consulted and will have the decisive vote in who must be appointed as part of the Springbok Management.”

 “Having regard to the aforesaid, the appointment of Jacques Nienaber and secondment of Dr Warren Adams constitutes a material breach of my contract of employment. I fail to understand how personnel can be appointed and removed without my knowledge as Head Coach. Clause 5.4.1 clearly sets out my role in the appointment and it is incorrect to state that Rassie can recruit and appoint any personnel without me knowing.”

What Now?

From my perspective, there are no winners in this entire fracas.

There can be no doubt that Allister Coetzee has failed as Springbok coach. He may seek to absolve himself of all blame, but that simply does not hold water. His role as a selector, strategist, tactician, motivator, and trainer all provide ample evidence of his personal failure as a coach. He has to go, for the good of the national team.

There is also no doubt whatsoever that SARU itself carries a huge proportion of the blame for the ills evident in South African rugby. Their arrogance, and strange secrecy, in the treatment of coaches, players, and the public at large is prima faci evidence of enormous self-interest and a lack of accountability.

Their mismanagement of rugby resources, especially player resources, is tantamount to rugby treason. The ill-advised demise of the greatest domestic rugby competition in the world, the Currie Cup, cannot be overlooked. The insistence of the inclusion of the Kings in the Super Rugby competition is yet another example of the mismanagement of resources.

Their lack of active focussed transformation down at the roots of the game is grossly negligent, at best.

The nepotism and secrecy in commercial contracting and the provision of services is remarkably similar to the actions of certain government departments.

Neither Allister Coetzee, nor SARU will emerge from this washing of the laundry with any glory.

Yet, at the end of the day, Springbok Rugby might just be a whole lot better off, without Allister Coetzee.













  1. Sad to think that SARU will treat Rassie in much the same way after the World Cup next year. They get a new car and start fiddling with the engine until it breaks and then they just replace it and congratulate themselves that they are managing the situation

    • One of the biggest weaknesses in South African Rugby – a lack of continuity in coaching structures. We need only follow the example of New Zealand and their franchises. Steve H was assistant coach at the AB’s and then elevated to coach – he has been in the system for close to 16 years now! Chris Boyd is leaving the Canes, so his assistant, John Plumtree, is set to take over… In South Africa we see a clean sweep – if a coach leaves or gets fired, there is a whole cleaning out of the cupboard.