Allister Coetzee might not recognise a great defence coach if one crash-tackled him in the parking lot.
We’re talking about a guy who had front-row seats to the mastery of Jacques Nienaber for years at the Stormers, and then, this time last year, chose a Springbok management-team option that excluded Nienaber.
In 2012, Coetzee backed Nienaber’s defence to win 14 of 16 matches as the Stormers topped the Super Rugby standings for the first time. The Cape team then finished the following season with a 9-7 record after Coetzee muted Nienaber on a doomed quest to feature Elton Jantjies in a rugby remake of Saturday Night Fever.
In 2016, the new Springbok coach entrusted defence to rookie coaches Chean Roux and JP Ferreira. South Africa slumped to their worst season in team history. But Coetzee is bullish about 2017 because he’s finally got his man.
“Brendan Venter was part of my plans in 2016 already but, unfortunately, he was not available because of commitments elsewhere,” said the Bok coach after appointing Venter as his ‘defence and exits coach’ on Sunday.
The reality is that, irrespective of Venter’s availability last year, Coetzee had better defence coaches at his fingertips.
After Nienaber packed his bags for Munster, Sharks defence coach Omar Mouneimne offered his services to the Bok coach. Coetzee opted to go with Roux.
Am I suggesting that Mouneimne is a superior defence coach to Venter? You betcha!
During their careers, both have been responsible for coaching defence at Italy and the Sharks. Mouneimne was Italy’s defence coach in 2011; Venter has just finished his first Six Nations campaign with the Azzurri.
In the 2011 European championship, Italy conceded 15 tries and 138 points in five Tests, including a victory against France in Rome.
This year, Italy conceded 26 tries and 201 points and failed to win a single match.
In 2015, Gary Gold drafted in Venter as their technical director at the Sharks. They conceded 43 tries and 401 points in 16 Super Rugby matches one season after allowing the fewest tries (22) in the competition. Venter later apologised for the state of the defence.
In 2016, Gold drafted in Mouneimne to coach the Sharks defence. They conceded 30 tries and 269 points in 15 matches, including a 32-15 win against eventual champs, the Hurricanes.
Coetzee has made a point of announcing that Venter will be responsible for the Bok exit strategy. Under Venter, the 2015 Sharks were Super Rugby’s most frequent kickers out of hand (390 kicks) but they gained the least ground (8,800 kicking metres).
Mouneimne’s kicking strategy was far more effective – in 2016, the Sharks led Super Rugby with 11,700 metres gained from 360 kicks.
Coetzee’s first season at the helm of the Boks subjected fans to a disastrous a 4-8 record, including historic losses against Ireland, Argentina, New Zealand, England, Wales and Italy.
As he has intimiated, part of the reason this happened was because Coetzee chose not to make use of Nienaber or Mouneimne as he waited to acquire his preferred candidate who is arguably South Africa’s third-most effective defence coach – on a consultancy basis, because he’s contracted to help turn Italy into World Cup contenders in 2019.
In Coetzee’s defence, he has reason to be enamoured with Venter after being emphatically ambushed by the latter in the 2013 Currie Cup final, and again in Italy last year.
Venter will be going for the trifecta when South Africa visit Italy on November 25.
Meanwhile, Nienaber and Mouneimne will be sharing their expertise with clubs in other European nations that also have plans to embarrass the Boks.