Allister Coetzee was named South Africa’s national rugby coach on Tuesday on a four-year contract to take the Springboks past the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Coetzee, only the second black coach of the Springboks, succeeds Heyneke Meyer, who resigned after a third-place finish at last year’s World Cup. Coetzee takes over a South African squad where a number of experienced veterans and former World Cup winners have retired. He will need to select a new captain to replace Jean de Villiers ahead of his first challenge, a three-Test home series against Ireland in June. South Africa then play world champions New Zealand, Australia and Argentina in the annual southern hemisphere Rugby Championship.
The 52-year-old Coetzee’s appointment was widely expected. He was given the job at the beginning of the month but the South African Rugby Union said it delayed naming Coetzee to give him time to negotiate an end to his contract with Japanese club Kobelco Steelers.
Coetzee was an assistant coach under Jake White when South Africa won the World Cup in 2007. He was in charge of Cape Town-based Super Rugby team the Stormers from 2010-15, winning three South African conference titles.
As a former backline coach, Coetzee was tipped to develop a more open, attacking game for the Springboks. He said he would still maintain their traditional forward strength.
“Radical change is probably too radical,” Coetzee said at a news conference broadcast live in the country, which sees rugby as its national game. “We will make sure we still play to our strengths.”
Coetzee will face more pressure than his predecessors to bring more black players through to the national team, an ongoing issue in South African rugby, which is still dominated by whites. The South African Rugby Union has a signed agreement with government to develop more black talent.
Under Coetzee’s watch, the Springboks must meet a target of having at least half the squad made up of non-white players by 2019, according to that agreement.
“It’s not an issue for me, honestly,” Coetzee said of transforming the racial makeup of the team. “This is South Africa. ... It’s unique and I think that uniqueness must make us stronger. It’s an exciting challenge.”
Coetzee immediately indicated his eagerness for transformation by naming Mzwandile Stick, who is black and a former sevens international, as one of his two assistant coaches and the new Springboks backline coach. Johann van Graan, who worked under Meyer, was retained as forwards coach.
South African sports minister Fikile Mbalula, who was also at the announcement, warned Coetzee that he faced grinding pressure from demanding South African rugby fans and media.
“South Africans are not very loyal,” Mbalula said to Coetzee. “You can see people are here congratulating you. If you get beaten by the Irish, we are going to start digging up things we never knew about you.”