JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Allister Coetzee was forced out as South Africa rugby coach on Friday after two years in which the Springboks plummeted to never-before-seen depths.
The departure was described by SA Rugby as by mutual agreement but it was widely reported it was seeking to sack Coetzee following another dismal showing on the tour of Europe last November and December.
Coetzee and SA Rugby agreed to terminate their contract two years early. In a statement, it quoted Coetzee as saying "Now is the time the team and me strike out in new directions."
Rassie Erasmus, the former Springboks loose forward and ex-director of rugby at Irish club Munster is expected to take over. He returned to South Africa in November as the union's director of rugby.
The new Springboks coaching team would be announced by the end of February, SA Rugby said, with South Africa due to host England in a three-test series in June.
Coetzee won just 11 of 25 tests in charge since taking over in early 2016, an unacceptable win ratio for a team that believes it should be the best in the world, or at least the No. 1 challenger to fierce rival New Zealand.
Instead, the Springboks became a laughingstock under Coetzee, collecting a string of unwanted records.
Coetzee's team lost to Ireland for the first time at home in his first test, lost in Argentina for the first time, was beaten 57-15 by New Zealand for its worst defeat at home, and was even beaten by minnow Italy, also for the first time ever.
In all, South Africa lost eight tests in 2016, the team's worst season ever just a year after the Springboks finished third at the Rugby World Cup and pushed New Zealand close in the semifinals.
Coetzee was retained in 2017 because of failures on the part of SA Rugby, and the lack of a suitable successor. He was given new assistants.
During 2017, however, he was without captain Warren Whiteley for most of it, leadership on the field was found wanting, selecting a back three was always in flux, and he admitted to selection mistakes working with the transformation rules which require a certain number of non-white players to be included.
The lowest point came in September, a 57-0 hammering by the All Blacks in New Zealand for South Africa's worst loss anywhere, ever. After that, Coetzee couldn't shrug off doubts over his suitability for the job. The last straw was the record 38-3 loss to Ireland in Dublin in November to start the Boks' end-of-year tour.
It was widely reported in South Africa that SA Rugby would force Coetzee out of the job, with just a possible compensation deal the only complication because he still had two years left on his contract. The relationship turned sour, with Coetzee reportedly sending a letter to SA Rugby criticizing management and saying he was "set up to fail."
"First and foremost we had to assess what is in the best interests of the Springboks," Jurie Roux, the chief executive of SA Rugby, said in the statement confirming Coetzee's departure.
The 45-year-old Erasmus has filled various roles at SA Rugby and has been linked with the Springboks coaching job previously. His role as SA Rugby director is to oversee all elements of the national team, and Coetzee reportedly said he was unwilling to work under Erasmus, calling it an "indignity."
Erasmus said this week the Springboks were good enough to be feared again, and planning was well underway to beat England in June despite the uncertainty over Coetzee's future.
"So, there has been planning going on behind the scenes, and of course we want to get that clarity (about the coach), but there is a process that has to run its course," Erasmus said, according to SA Rugby Magazine. "However, it's not hindering us in the background and it isn't affecting my role as director of rugby, which is to ensure that we are as well prepared as possible to be able to beat England in that first test series."
Asked if he was willing to coach the Springboks, Erasmus said he would do what was best for South Africa.