Mallett's job safe despite hammering from back home

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The Springboks coach, Nick Mallett, knows his job is safe when he gets home to South Africa, even if his side loses their Tri-Nations match on Saturday against Australia.

The Springboks coach, Nick Mallett, knows his job is safe when he gets home to South Africa, even if his side loses their Tri-Nations match on Saturday against Australia.

Mallett, who has come under increasing fire from a number of directions, including the South African Rugby Football Union president, Silas Nkanunu, is facing growing opposition to his new more expansive game lan, one which has seen the team improve steadily but still lose their last three matches.

Sarfu's chief executive officer, Rian Oberholzer, confirmed yesterday that Mallett would be expected to explain his side's shortcomings to the Sarfu executive, but that is nothing new to the Bok coach, who has had this obligation after all tours.

Oberholzer had said before the tournament that, no matter what the results, Mallett would retain his job and he is sticking to his guns despite public opinion seemingly turning against the coach. "Nick will have to come and see us," Oberholzer said from Cape Town, "but that is the normal way it works. The national coach always has to meet the executive and give an explanation for the side's performance and the best way of going forward. It's no different this time around."

A Sarfu executive member, Harold Verster, echoed Oberholzer's sentiments, saying it was time for cool heads and support for the national side as they attempted to win their final match of the four-week tour of Australasia. He said: "We mustn't get over-emotional at the moment, we need to stand together behind the side and have an understanding for what they are trying to achieve."

Yet Verster said he questioned whether it was the correct style of play for the national team and several other Sarfu executive members agreed that they were extremely worried about the Boks insistence to continue with the radical change.

The Sarfu president Nkanunu lambasted several Springbok players, as well as Mallett's playing style in the press at the weekend and news of this was received with shock by some of the team, who admitted that this was the last thing they needed before the Australia game. Nkanunu singled out the full-back Percy Montgomery, hooker Charl Marais and the midfield duo of Robbie Fleck and De Wet Barry as the players that "terrified me when I see them play."

"I don't care what they do behind closed doors, but publicly he should have supported the side. This is the last thing we need while preparing to take on the world champions," said one angry player, who asked not to be named because of contractual obligations.

Yesterday the Springbok team manager, Gideon Sam, made an empassioned plea to the South African public to keep on supporting the team, even though things were not going their way on the field. "I think it's important that people realise what we are trying to achieve here is in the interests of South African rugby," Sam said. "And we as management believe that the route that the coach is taking is right.

"We are, of course, aware of people baying for the blood of the coach and saying that he will lose his job on his return. We don't believe that should happen. Chopping and changing of coaches is not the answer.

"As we sit here, we are wounded both physically and emotionally. Emotionally because instead of getting the support back home, there are just too many critics." Mallett has kept his silence over the matter and has declined to comment on the criticism.

The New Zealand Rugby Union said yesterday it was investigating the aiming of a laser pointer beam from the stands at the eyes of the South Africa's goal-kicker, Braam van Straaten, as he took a penalty during Saturday's Test.

The Springboks have so far not lodged a complaint but Van Straaten confirmed he had noticed the laser beam during an unsuccessful kick at goal. Television footage also showed a red beam of light on the player.

The Australia prop Richard Harry announced yesterday he would retire from rugby after Saturday's Test against the Springboks to concentrate on his family.