South African rugby takes first steps on road to change

By GERALD IMRAY - AP Sports Writer ,

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South Africa players line up before the start of the international rugby union test match against Italy in Florence, Italy, Saturday Nov. 19, 2016.

South Africa players line up before the start of the international rugby union test match against Italy in Florence, Italy, Saturday Nov. 19, 2016. (Photo: AP Photo/Andrea Staccioli, File)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — In a move compared to turkeys voting for Christmas, members of South African rugby's ruling general council decided on Friday to reduce some of their own powers, part of a major shake-up prompted by the dramatic fall from grace of the Springboks.

Among the changes approved by the general council — made up of representatives of the 14 provincial rugby unions — was giving up the power to appoint the national coach.

The changes to South African rugby's outdated model were accelerated by the dire performance of the Springboks, who lost eight out of 12 tests, including four in a row to end their worst-ever season.

SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux had the job of selling the changes to the provincial union representatives, who have been criticized for years for voting in the interests of their own local unions and teams at the expense of South African rugby as a whole.

"If you think about some of the decisions taken, turkeys actually did vote for Christmas on some of them, and I'm being serious," Roux said of Friday's votes in Cape Town. "Some of them had to make fairly hard decisions, which could be deemed in their own constituencies as not being in the interests of their union."

The Springboks head coach job will now be decided by the executive council, headed by the SA Rugby president. The general council also diminished its own importance by agreeing to set up an independent committee to deal with decisions related to South African teams participating in Super Rugby.

While SA Rugby has conceded the urgent need for it to update the way it operates, Springboks coach Allister Coetzee has come under the most intense criticism for the performance of the team, a two-time World Cup champion.

Coetzee took over a Springboks team that lost to defending champion New Zealand in the semifinals of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. In his first season in charge, South Africa lost at home to Ireland for the first time, in Argentina for the first time, was on the receiving end of its heaviest ever home defeat when it was thumped 57-15 by the All Blacks, and was beaten by lightweight Italy for the first time.

Coetzee's future was not discussed on Friday, SA Rugby president Mark Alexander said, but the coach and his backroom staff will have their jobs on the line when a review of their performance begins on Monday.

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