Paralysis of analysis
Stephen Nell
September 29, 2010
South Africa coach Peter De Villiers casts an eye over training, Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein, South Africa, September 3, 2010
Alone in the crowd - Peter De Villiers © Getty Images

South African rugby bosses appear to be caught in a 'paralysis of analysis' with the Springboks' Grand Slam tour just over a month away.

There had been plenty of speculation about changes being on the cards prior to Monday's review of Springbok coach Peter De Villiers. It was thought in some quarters that De Villiers would hold onto his position, but that there would be a shake-up around him, with assistant coaches Dick Muir and Gary Gold potentially in the firing line.

However, the South African Rugby Union (SARU) did no more than release a statement on Monday that bought them time, adding that details for a media briefing would be announced Tuesday. In a further indication that the governing body is struggling to get its plans in place, this too was cancelled.

If anything, this creates the impression that SARU are struggling to identify suitable replacements. Rumours abound that Heyneke Meyer declined the opportunity to get on board. There has also been speculation linking Western Province director of coaching Rassie Erasmus with a combined role of South Africa Under-20 coach and technical director of the Boks.

However, if such a combined position exists, it is yet to be formalised. Erasmus has also denied that he applied for the advertised Under-20 job, while WP have released a curt statement confirming his contractual obligations with the union.

The name of former All Black coach John Mitchell was also linked, but he has just embarked on a new challenge at the Golden Lions and is not a serious candidate. Stormers and WP coach Allister Coetzee might also have been a shot, but like Erasmus is under contract with WP until 2012.

Jake White has thrown his hat into the ring, but was often at logger heads with rugby bosses during his tenure and appears to be firmly out of favour. SARU therefore appear to have a lack of heavyweight candidates for their top coaching jobs. And whoever comes on board effectively has to hitch his wagon to De Villiers, whose verbal rockets have been a source of increasing concern.

If they decide to take the drastic action of sacking the head coach, they are left with the challenge of putting a management team together with a challenging tour just around the corner. It may still be a possibility that SARU decide to strengthen the management team by bringing in the expertise of specialists. A defence coach, for example, could help.

However, there has been no clear indication of what they intend to do and whether they have the ability to practically realise their plans. This leaves South African rugby in a state of crisis before the Grand Slam tour. And one can't help but wonder how it came to this after the World Champion nation had two teams in this year's Super 14 final.

Considering the quality at their disposal, South Africa really should be right up there in the world rankings and not in a state of free-fall and crisis-management. SARU really do have the justification to make any changes they see fit.

As for the looming tour, I can't help but revise my bold predictions from earlier in the year when South Africa looked in awesome shape. De Villiers was going to take what he anticipated would be his World Cup squad on tour, but the likely scenario is now that South Africa will be without the majority of their most senior players.

Perhaps this won't necessarily be a bad thing for a coach who probably has also not been given the credit he deserves for South Africa's Tri-Nations triumph and series win over the British and Irish Lions in 2009. It has often been alleged that John Smit is really running the show, but the captain will not be there to hold anyone's hand on tour.

This will be a test for De Villiers, but also an opportunity to take charge and show critics once and for all that he is the right man to take South Africa to next year's World Cup. De Villiers and the Boks can still turn it into a positive, but similarly Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England must also be looking forward a little more than usual to playing them.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Stephen Nell is the rugby correspondent for the Rapport newspaper in South Africa

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