Q&A with Allister Coetzee

by John Goliath

Q: As a classy scrumhalf you were known for your dive pass. Where did it come from?

A: The dive pass was just a mechanism to get me out of trouble. I wasn’t the biggest player, and the opposition always wanted to fold me in half! It’s always been the case that if you put pressure on the scrumhalf, the whole team suffers. In those days, you also weren’t protected like the players are today. You had to protect yourself. There was no TMO!

Q: So the rugby during your day was harder than it is today?

A: I wouldn’t say it was harder, but intimidation was a big part of the game. It was very dirty! Players got away with throwing punches!

Q: Your favourite player during your Saru days?

A: Fred Amsterdam, who played wing for South Western Districts. He was given the nickname “GT”, which was a car that was very fast. He played in the Springbok trials with me in 1992.

He was a natural runner who had an unbelievable sidestep. He was in the mould of Carel du Plessis, and they had the same running style. Desmond Booysen and Desmond Kramer, who I played with for Eastern Province, were also good wingers.

Q: Biggest game for you during those playing years?

A: If it was a Port Elizabeth affair, then it was EP versus Kwaru. The stadium was always packed and people sat on the roof. The Adcock Stadium was behind Livingstone Hospital, and people would be watching from that building. It was a massive occasion. And then all the Cape teams were difficult to play against. Every team had their own strengths. If you play at the Green Point Track, you knew you had to bring your steel for a couple of uppercuts!

When you go to Florida Park, you had to be ready for the Tigers. And when you go to Boland, you knew it was going to be an open, running game. But a lot of the time I got the better of Piet Jooste and Francois Davids!

Q: Did you watch Currie Cup rugby during those days?

A: The Currie Cup and SA Cup were played at the same time so I didn’t watch a lot of Currie Cup rugby. Our SA Cup was well-supported, people travelled all over South Africa with almost no money to watch their teams. For me, it was an unbelievable experience of playing in front of so many people at a young age.

It was a great standard of rugby, and I don’t think we would have had so much support if it wasn’t a good product. It’s just a shame that we didn’t have a lot of archives to record it all. That is what hurts me the most.

Q: Are you sad that unity wasn’t achieved earlier to test yourself against your white counterparts when you were in your prime?

A: You always want to test yourself against other players, but I have made peace with that. I at least had one opportunity to play in a unity match in Kimberley when I played with Naas Botha as my flyhalf. He went off early with an injury and I also got hurt sometime in the 70th minute. We got each other in the medical room after the game, and he told me I had a good game. And then he asked me where do I come from?!

Q: Favourite moment as a Saru player?

A: The only game we played outside South Africa’s borders was against a Namibian XV side. That was a great moment, even though we ended up winning easily.

The other great memory was winning three Top Eight club championships in a row at City Park with Wallabies rugby club in PE. Actually, I used to run the Top Eight and I broke a couple of guys’ hearts during that time!

In 1991, in our fourth final, we lost to Universals from City and Suburban. But in 1990, against Pniel Villagers, we were behind with almost no time on the clock. We got the ball in our own half, and a gap appeared next to the ruck. I went through that gap, and on the halfway line I gave the ball to my wing to score under the poles! The Pniel people cried that day!

Q: Toughest moment of your coaching career?

A: Having to drop players, that will never become an easy thing to do. But it’s a reality, it will always be part of coaching. But as long as you stay true to your philosophy and values, you can overcome that.

What is tough at this level is that you have to manage the expectations of millions of fanatical supporters. But you are the national coach, and you have to embrace that. Whether you like it or not.

Q:,Is one of the criterias for the Springbok job a thick skin?

A: Not necessarily a thick skin, but you must understand all the role players. That is why I have said from the start this is not my team, this is our team. I understand what the supporters are looking for when it comes to the Springboks, it must be a successful side, a winning team and a team who will eventually play a brand of rugby they can be proud of.

This team must inspire people. It will not be easy to get there, but I understand that.

You must actually have a lot of patience. When everybody around you loses their cool, you must still have that patience.

Q: How do you shield your family from the criticism?

A: It does become a bit of a lonely job. You have got to speak to them beforehand about the job and the nature of this beast.

Then you have got to make certain sacrifices as well. But I have two mature daughters and a wife who has been next to my side for more than 25 years now, and she has been in the rugby industry. They are human, but we know how to deal with criticism. There are ways of dealing with it.

Q: A lot of people think that transformed rugby teams can’t win matches. What is your opinion on the matter?

A: Western Province were the Currie Cup champs in 2014 and we were the conference champs before I left the Stormers. Transformed sides that were the best in South Africa.

I’m not going to be stuck around numbers because transformation comes from within you first as a person, how you think about something. To transform your thought processes. Transformation of the heart.

I believe everybody should get an opportunity in this country, whether they are young and white, young and black, young and coloured or young and Indian. If you deserve an opportunity, you must get an opportunity. That is the beauty of South Africa. It’s not about replacing white with black. Unfortunately, some minds can’t fathom this.

Q: Are your Bok assistants just a bunch of “yes-men”, or will you be taking their advice?

A: They are definitely not ‘yes-men’. They have pedigree and credentials. Johann van Graan has been to a World Cup and comes with loads of experience. He is a hardworking guy and passionate about the game.

Mzwandile Stick comes with international pedigree, he has played Sevens at the highest level. He played provincial rugby and he successfully coached Under-19s with limited resources. He is currently on the Kings coaching staff. He is a confident person, and he understands what it takes to succeed at the highest level. You never start in any job as a know-it-all, but I have no doubt that he will be successful.

Q: Elton Jantjies is the form flyhalf in South Africa but a lot of people are worried that when he played under you in 2013, that he wasn’t quite at his best. Do you think you two will be able to work together in the Springbok set-up?

A: People speak about it as if there was a problem. There was never a problem. What people don’t understand … who was Elton’s mentor at that time? The boy lost his dad and it was a tough time. I had to make sure that Elton gets it right on and off the field, and it was tough for him in a new environment. It’s never easy just to come to the Cape and settle in. The expectations are really, really high. People don’t understand the Cape.

It was tough for him. I helped him as best as I could, I even took the goal-kicking away from him to focus on his game. I got to know him well as a person, and I’m looking forward to working with him again. I’m happy that he is playing with this confidence at the moment.

Q: You were widely-criticised as Stormers and Western Province coach for your conservative approach. Do you feel that you understood the WP culture of playing 15-man rugby?

A: Yes, I understood it, definitely. But when I got here they hadn’t won a Currie Cup in 11 years. And at the time it was necessary to start building a winning culture, and at the time that was the right way of playing.

But also as coaches, and a coaching team at Western Province, we understood that we needed to evolve, and we did that.

In Currie Cup the attacking came back, we selected the right personnel, we got (Seabelo) Senatla from the Sevens and (Cheslin) Kolbe came in. We had the exciting backs with the X-factor, which we combined with a top pack. You can’t have a WP style without a great set-piece or physicality.

Without a solid defence I understood that, but we put in proper stepping stones in place and they are now building from there.

WP had the flair stuff first, but that is why there were no trophies, a drought.

Q: What do you think of Robbie Fleck as head coach of the Stormers?

A: Robbie is doing a great job and I’m very happy for him. He understands where we came from and where we wanted to go. He was part of that transition. He is a great guy.

Q: Who is the most skilful rugby player you have ever seen?

A: There have been a number of skilful players I have seen in the past. You always look at player who has a lot of time and space on the ball. Those are the skilful players, that’s how I see a player. Fourie du Preez comes to mind as that sort of player. In my days in the Saru era, a guy like WP flyhalf Fagmie Solomons was also a very skilful person. His passing, his kicking, and his time on the ball. He was also a great WP cricketer.

Q: One thing about Allister Coetzee that people don’t know about?

A: I’m an open book, open in my dealings. A lot of people have underestimated me over a long period of time, and I’m used to it. But those people who have worked with me understand me. What you don’t know about me is actually to my advantage!

Q: What did you think of Ernie Els six-putt at the Masters? And can he win another major?

A: It shows we all are human, and it can happen to anyone. But what we tend to highlight and see as failure, the great sportsmen learn from that. That is also how I look at failure, there is a lesson going to come from it. When he comes out and wins another major, people will forget about what that nine on the par-4.

That is the beauty about sport. You are never going to win every time you participate but as long as you see your losses as a form of learning, then I think you will grow as a person. Setbacks teach us to be resilient.

Q: Your favourite Cape dish?

A: My parody on Twitter says I like red wine and snoek! But I enjoy a nice curry with Malay spices, but I also like my oysters and some crayfish. So a bit of the Bo-Kaap and a bit of the West Coast!

Q: Rihanna or Beyonce? And why?

A: To be honest, I don’t really listen to their music!

Q: Favourite movie?

A: I enjoy Slumdog Millionaire. I like movies where the underdog goes from nothing to something, fighting against the odds.

I also like autobiographies, sport and politics, movies about the Ghandis and the Mandelas of this world.

Source: Weekend Argus

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