Former All Blacks coach John Mitchell touted for Springbok job
John Mitchell is being touted by an Australian paper as a possible replacement for embattled Springboks coach Allister Coetzee.
Bret Harris, senior rugby writer at the Australian, said there is speculation that the former All Blacks coach could take over South Africa as Coetzee looks set to face the sack.
Mitchell did coach the Lions to Currie Cup success in 2011, but left the country to take up the head coaching job with the USA Eagles after allegations of poor treatment of players in 2012 saw his time in Africa come to a controversial end.
In January, Mitchell told NZME he was happy to escape the politics of South African rugby, "heading into an environment where there is stability above me".
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Whether he would want to return to that environment is another question.
Embattled South Africa coach Coetzee is refusing to quit, and accepts the sack is a real possibility after overseeing a woeful 2016 for the Springboks.
But he insisted he alone was not responsible for a desperate run of results that culminated with Sunday's 27-13 defeat by Wales in Cardiff.
It was South Africa's eighth test loss of 2016 — the most they had ever suffered in a calendar year — with the season yielding just four wins from 12 full internationals.
On the way they suffered their heaviest home defeat of all time, going down 57-15 to world champions New Zealand in Durban in October, while last week's 20-18 reverse in Florence was their first loss to Italy.
Although Coetzee was appointed on a four-year contract after succeeding Heyneke Meyer following last year's World Cup, it is hard to see how he will remain in post for much longer.
However, he defied calls to quit, saying he was determined to fix the problem and see out his contract.
"I've been appointed to 2019 and I want to make sure that when I leave I do so with a firm, concrete, tangible blueprint in place for how the Springboks must be run," he told reporters on Monday (Tuesday NZ time) as the team returned home after a dismal tour of Europe.
Having lost to England, Italy and Wales, South Africa slipped to sixth in the World Rugby rankings.
It meant they finished with eight defeats in 12 tests this year for the worst return in 125 years of Bok rugby.
"Sometimes things have got to go as low as they can before they can go upwards again," said Coetzee.
He said he wasn't worried he might be sacked.
"I don't fear anything, to be honest," said Coetzee.
"Collectively, we've got to understand that it's not just one person that can take responsibility for that.
"If I'm solely held responsible for that, then I will walk away."
Former Springboks coach Nick Mallett said better national coaches than Coetzee had been fired.
"I feel dreadfully sorry for Allister because he is a decent guy, but better Springboks coaches than him have been fired," said Mallett, an influential and respected TV analyst.
Meanwhile outgoing Springbok captain Adriaan Strauss promised he would be "ruthless with the truth."
The hooker, who had already announced his international retirement, bowed out of Test rugby against Wales.
"I'm not here for a 'pity party,' I am responsible," Strauss told reporters.
"I did everything I could this year," added Strauss, thrust into the leadership after the retirements of Jean de Villiers, Fourie du Preez and Victor Matfield following a 2015 World Cup where the Springboks came third.
"I made a lot of mistakes, I knew I would. But in every situation I put the Springboks first and really gave it my all."
Minutes after the final whistle, SA Rugby president Mark Alexander announced plans for a wide-ranging review, where the "number one priority is a turnaround strategy for the Springbok team."
The 65-times capped Strauss responded by saying: "I will be ruthless with the truth... When I get my opportunity at the right places I will make honest contributions."
Coetzee, paying tribute to Strauss, said: "The big thing for me is that there wouldn't have been any other captain currently playing in South Africa that could have handled the pressure he has handled."
Amid calls for a reduction in the number Super Rugby franchises in South Africa and a clamp down on overseas-based players' availability for test rugby, Coetzee said: "We need to get the standards up.
"The Springbok stands for excellence. We need to make sure that whatever systems we put in place will give the players a platform to achieve excellence."
Southern hemisphere nations provided all four semi-finalists at last year's World Cup.
But three of those four teams lost to northern hemisphere countries on Sunday, with Australia and Argentina beaten by Ireland and England respectively.
"You cannot take it for granted that the southern hemisphere team will just win," said Coetzee.
"Australia lost to Ireland, it just shows again there's hardly any difference. There's no gap."