Okay, I have picked my respective match day squads of 23. Who coaches these #DreamTeams?
There have been many Springbok coaches since 1992: John Williams led the country out of international rugby isolation. He lasted just five Tests. Gerrie Sonnekus’s tenure lasted just five minutes. The former Bok and Free State No 8 quit in the week he was appointed. Ian McIntosh followed in 1993 and was gone by 1994. Kitch Christie famously called his year in charge an ‘ambulance job’ and he patched the Springboks up pretty good as they won 14 Tests in succession, including the 1995 World Cup final against the All Blacks at Ellis Park. Andre Markgraaff followed in 1996 and he was gone by February 1997, having quit because of racism allegations. Carel du Plessis was the man handed the Bok job. He was also gone within six months. Then came Nick Mallett at the end of 1997 and he added 16 successive wins to Du Plessis’s final Test win as the Boks equaled the then world record of 17 Test wins on the trot. Mallett survived a 1999 World Cup bronze after the dramatic extra-time semi-final defeat to Australia but he could not survive criticism of Test match ticket prices in South Africa. He was gone in 2000. Harry Viljoen was lured back into rugby and he was gone in a year. Rudolf Straeuli presided over the Boks in what was the darkest chapter in Springbok history. Straeuli’s Boks were beaten 29-9 by the All Blacks in the 2003 World Cup quarter-final and the infamous Kamp Staaldraad that preceded the World Cup would ultimately end Straeuli’s Bok coaching career. He had lasted two years as national coach. Jake White rebuilt the Boks in a fractured tenure that included the highs of winning the Tri Nations and the World Cup in 2007. In between the Tri Nations success and that wonderful night in Paris against England in the final in 2007, White’s Boks also lost six in succession. Peter de Villiers was the next cab off the rank. He would claim three successive wins against the All Blacks in 2009 and win a series against the British & Irish Lions, but his tenure would end in 2011 in a World Cup quarter-final exit against the Wallabies in Wellington, New Zealand. Heyneke Meyer stepped up from a decade of leading the Bulls, but could never replicate his Super Rugby and provincial success. Meyer’s Springboks would lose a pool game to Japan at the 2015 World Cup, lose to the All Blacks in the semi-final and beat Argentina for the bronze. Allister Coetzee’s reign was as dark at Straeuli’s but not for any off-the-field shenanigans. Coetzee’s time will be remembered for some of the most humiliating defeats, which included a 57-15 loss against the All Blacks in Durban and a 57-0 shutout against the All Blacks in Albany, New Zealand. The lowest moment was a first ever defeat to Italy at the end of 2016. Coetzee was fired two years into a four-year contract and in 2018 was replaced by Rassie Erasmus, whose Boks beat England in a home series and in 2019 won the Rugby Championship and the World Cup.
If you want a blow by blow account of the Springbok coaches since 1992, get Gavin Rich’s detailed book ‘The poisoned chalice’, in which he unpacks every Bok coach’s tenure. Former All Blacks coach and England assistant coach John Mitchell described the book as ‘intriguing, fascinating and revelatory – well worth the read’. I will second that and Rich is one of the originals among us who were involved in reporting on the Springboks since their international return in 1992.
For purposes of my #DreamTeam selections I’ve narrowed the extended list to Christie, Mallett, White, De Villiers and Erasmus. McIntosh is arguably the most celebrated of all of them, in terms of what he did at Natal and the Sharks. He was given a raw deal as the Bok coach and back in the day everything was done to set up a Bok coach for failure. McIntosh had to navigate waters that no modern coach swims in. He was given a team, in which his voice was just one of seven. McIntosh is also among the most charismatic of South African coaches and he was very much a case of being the right guy at the wrong time as a Bok coach.
De Villiers was a coach that polarized opinion. I was never in favour of his appointment and described the conclusion as ‘the end of an error’. I believe De Villiers inherited the most talented Springbok squad since readmission, with half the team the best in their positions in the world and the bulk of the team World Cup winners in 2007. He was more a manager to me than a coach, with the senior players determining their own destiny, be it some amazing victories or the lows of a World Cup quarter-final exit in 2011.
Still, De Villiers has to be acknowledged for being at the helm of a Springbok squad that beat the All Blacks three times in one year. He was also in charge when they beat the Lions. His record against New Zealand was also the best of all South Africa’s coaches. For that alone, he makes a top five.
Christie will always have his place in Bok coaching history. He was at the helm for the historic 1995 World Cup triumph and he never lost a Test in 1994 and 1995. The context to this is that he never coached a Springbok team against the All Blacks in New Zealand.
I thought Mallett was outstanding as a coach and the right man at the right time for the Boks. He started brilliantly but fell away in his final year. Rich calls it ‘Mad Coach’s Disease’ in how the pressure of the job gets to every Bok coach and the sanity in year one is often replaced by a seeming insanity for those who make it to the fourth year.
Mallett’s Boks in November of 1997 were on another planet. The 52-10 destruction of some of the best players to have represented France at the Parc des Princes in Paris was my favourite Nick Mallett Test. The Springboks that day retired a decade of wonderful French players. I was also in Wellington, New Zealand for the 13-3 win and the 1999 World Cup semi-final was as much a tactical victory for Mallett as it was an extra-time scoreboard win for the Wallabies head coach Rod Macqueen.
Mallett’s selections at the 1999 World Cup were more his Achilles heel than his obvious knowledge of the game.
My first introduction to Mallett came as a 15 year-old schoolboy and he had the ability to make some very ordinary schoolboys produce extraordinary results. I always enjoyed Mallett’s brashness and he remains one of my favourite Bok coaches.
Ditto, White, whose prized asset was an ability to understand the strengths of his players ability and select accordingly.
White’s 2007 Springboks at the World Cup were the best team at the tournament and the most popular. The seven weeks spent in France in 2007 remain the best ‘tour’ seven weeks I ever experienced. The 36-0 shutout of England at the Stade de France in Paris was special and while the 15-6 final was a very different type of victory, it was a joy to be a part of such a monumental occasion.
White, technically, is very good, but his player management hasn’t always matched his coaching strengths. It is a pity because if he had stayed on post the 2007 World Cup, I do believe the 2011 World Cup campaign may have played out very differently.
Mallett and White were the right coaches for South Africa back then and their knowledge and understanding of rugby would ensure success in any era that they led the Boks.
I learned incredible amounts from both Mallett and White when it came to analysis and vision for the game, but the mind that stands out for me is Erasmus, who I have known since his playing days.
Erasmus, as a rugby tactician and selector, is among the best I’ve seen since rugby went professional in 1996. He has done more for transformation in Springbok rugby than any of his predecessors. He was the pioneer who finally broke the shackles with his appointment of Siya Kolisi as his captain and his trust in black players. Erasmus identified rugby players in South Africa who he felt had the potential to be the best in the world and he invested in black talent that needed game time opportunities to show they were as capable and as good as any white players.
The 2019 World Cup triumph was a victory for transformation, for quality and for the rugby played. Erasmus got it all right in the play-offs, with his selections, with his squad rotation and with the six forwards/two backs super sub bench split.
He gave his England opposite Eddie Jones a coaching masterclass in the final. Erasmus had won his first two Tests against Jones in South Africa in 2018, lost the third in Cape Town and controversially lost the fourth at Twickenham. The World Cup final was the decider and Erasmus crushed Jones.
Coaches are defined in the biggest moments and Erasmus’s international coaching legacy will always be just how right he got it in the 2019 semi-final and final against Wales and England respectively.
He is the man I would want to coach my #Springboks #Dream23.
And the man who I would want him to pit his skills against is Warren Gatland, the New Zealander who coached Wales for 12 years and by the end of 2021 would have coached the British & Irish Lions on three successive tours to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
I’ve encountered some outstanding overseas coaches since 1992. New Zealand’s John Hart was one I really enjoyed and there was no doubting Rod Macqueen’s impact with the Wallabies. Sir Ian McGeechan will always have a place among the coaching elite and England’s Sir Clive Woodward, New Zealand’s Sir Graham Henry and Sir Steve Hansen all won World Cups and have remarkable records.
Eddie Jones and Joe Schmidt are world class, with Jones responsible for the greatest upset in World Cup history when Japan beat the Springboks in 2015. New Zealander Vern Cotter, so successful at Clermont, immediately made an impact with Scotland but his coaching career has played out more at club level. And Argentina’s Marcelo Loffreda was at the forefront of the Pumas most successful and consistent period, where they were top five team.
But the man who turned potential into pedigree was Gatland (with Wales) and Gatland (with the Lions).
Gatland transformed Welsh rugby and in his 12 years he took Wales to number one in the world and to a 2019 World Cup semi-final against South Africa that was tense and dramatic. South Africa won but it was a win that was only safe when time was called.
Gatland’s coaching style would also speak directly to the #World #DreamTeam I have picked. I believe he would most challenge the tactical acumen of Erasmus.
Someone has to referee my #Dream Test and for my Test in South Africa I’d want Wales’ Nigel Owens in charge. Any match with Owens on the whistle is a spectacle. He allows players to play and he believes in flow and pace. He is also not intimidated by a home crowd and he would be ideal for my home Test at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.
I grew up going to Newlands in Cape Town and loved the place, but the rarified air of Pretoria and the playing surface at Loftus made it my favourite South African ground. I also found the Pretoria crowd to be the most rugby intelligent in South Africa.
The All Blacks 33-26 second Test win at a capacity Loftus in 1996 and the Springboks’ second Test win at Loftus against the Lions in 2009 were among the best I ever got to write about. The quality of the teams, the crowd, the drama and the significance were unmatched as series deciders.
My rugby-writing career has allowed me to watch Test rugby at every venue in the world. The old Arms Park in Cardiff lived up to everything my dad had told me it would be. The old Lansdowne Road was equally glorious for being inglorious in how the wind could blow you off the park. Athletic Park in Wellington was just ugly but it had so much history. To see the Boks win there in 1998 was a career highlight.
Ellis Park and Eden Park are two of the most traditional and famous grounds and I got to watch the Springboks win the World Cup at Ellis Park in 1995 and the All Blacks win the World Cup in 2011. Both victories transcended a game of rugby in significance.
The ground I loved the most overseas was the Parc des Princes in Paris.
South African-born French prop Pieter de Villiers, who played so many matches at the ground told me the French called it ‘The Caldron’ because of the swirling noise of the crowd inside.
To quote De Villiers: ‘Well that day (1997) the Boks stewed them in their own potjie and Parc des Princess grew silent, whilst the Bokke just kept on ‘gooi kole’.
What a performance from Mallett and Teichmann’s Boks. The French supporters understand rugby poetry and, on that afternoon, they saw it from the men wearing green and gold.
The man to whistle the Parc des Princes showdown would be Jonathan Kaplan. He was easily the best referee South Africa has produced since 1992 and in his prime he was the best referee in the world. The only reason Kaplan didn’t referee the 2007 World Cup final was because the Boks were playing.