Chance for Bok rook­ies to rule the roost

UP TO THE TEST: The se­ries against France is an ex­er­cise in dam­age con­trol. But is it too late for coach Al­lis­ter Coet­zee?

Sunday Times - - SPORT - LIAM DEL CARME [email protected]­me­dia.co.za

AL­LIS­TER Coet­zee’s reign as Spring­bok coach has been as flaky as a crois­sant and the three-test se­ries against France won’t nec­es­sar­ily so­lid­ify his po­si­tion.

Guy Noves’s side, by Coet­zee’s own ad­mis­sion, has been the most im­proved in­ter­na­tional team over the last year, but even if the Boks se­cure a se­ries win, the dam­age done last year will con­tinue to leave Coet­zee on crumbly ground.

Coet­zee op­er­ated sans a per­for­mance clause in his con­tract last year, but this year is dif­fer­ent. The rep­u­ta­tional dam­age the team, or let’s say the brand, has suf­fered bor­dered on the ir­repara­ble.

Coet­zee’s ten­ure has been ten­u­ous and the Tri­col­ores didn’t have to bub­ble wrap a guil­lo­tine be­fore they winged their way here.

Bren­dan Ven­ter has been added to the coach­ing mix but whether he will sooth the ills that af­flicted the team last year re­mains to be seen.

As far as the new defence coach’s range of in­flu­ence is con­cerned, he is un­likely to con­fine him­self to just one lane.

What is also clear is that Coet­zee has had to turn to form play­ers and, to fur­ther dis­tance him­self from last year’s hor­rors, he has in­stalled a new cap­tain in War­ren White­ley. On-field in­spi­ra­tion is a com­mod­ity that was in short sup­ply last year and Coet­zee this time at least has in­vested in a player who has helped set, and is rev­el­ling in, a win­ning cul­ture.

White­ley should have fa­mil­iar faces around him in the first test.

An­dries Coet­zee seems to have the in­side lane at full­back, with fel­low Lion Court­nall Skosan the likely left­wing and Dil­lyn Leyds or Ray­mond Rhule on the other side.

Coet­zee [the coach] has made a strong case for set­ting down es­tab­lished com­bi­na­tions.

“Peo­ple al­ways think of com­bi­na­tions as nine and 10, 12 and 13. It goes wider than that. Imag­ine An­dries Coet­zee catch­ing a ball in his own ter­ri­tory and then he has play­ers fall­ing back in sup­port, like fly­half El­ton Jan­tjies, No 8 War­ren White­ley, scrumhalf Ross Cronjé and wing Court­nall Skosan. These are play­ers who know what to do in that sit­u­a­tion.”

That’s re­as­sur­ing, for the back three can ex­pect an aerial as­sault. They will lack ex­pe­ri­ence and they are not gifted the physique of their French coun­ter­parts. With high ball con­testers like Krugers­dorp-born full­back Scott Sped­ding and wing Vir­imi Vakatawa, the tourists will be keen to make in­roads un­der the high ball.

The Bok coach could of course rem­edy that by de­ploy­ing the burly and ex­pe­ri­enced Frans Steyn at full­back, but he has been listed as fly­half/cen­tre.

Steyn could also prove use­ful with his Big Bertha right foot at in­sid­e­cen­tre to com­ple­ment El­ton Jan­tjies’ dis­tinct left-foot lean­ings at fly­half.

Ross Cronjé is likely to start at scrumhalf, giving the team the cru­cial Lions’ eight- nine-10 axis.

Beast Mtawarira’s best rugby may be be­hind him, but his ex­pe­ri­ence is much needed next to Mal­com Marx and Frans Mal­herbe, al­though the lat­ter is yet to fully re­pay the faith the last two Bok coaches have dis­played in him.

Storm­ers lock duo Pi­eter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etze­beth are yet to fully as­sert them­selves this sea­son, but they will prob­a­bly start along­side team­mate Siya Kolisi.

Duane Ver­meulen, be­cause of his com­mit­ments in the Top 14 fi­nal this weekend, is un­likely to be in the start­ing team.

White­ley’s cre­den­tials as cap­tain and No 8 will be put to the blow­torch from the out­set.

Even if modern-day eighth­men rarely op­er­ate in the other’s or­bit, the Tri­col­ores’ Louis Pi­camoles cre­ates the im­pres­sion he’s the only No 8 on the field. He em­bod­ies the Gal­lic rooster’s ch­est-first swag­ger which is slowly but surely re­turn­ing un­der Noves.

For­wards coach and for­mer hooker Yan­nick Bru de­scribed 2015 as a night­mare from which the team sim­ply had to emerge.

“Af­ter the dis­ap­point­ment of 2015 we de­cided to play pos­i­tive rugby. We try and keep the ball and cre­ate space. We are on the way.”

There was also the re­al­i­sa­tion that they needed to re­store the joie de

vivre, which was purged from their game by a suc­ces­sion of overly prag­matic coaches.

“We had to give to the fans the feel­ing that we de­serve to be sup­ported by them,” noted Bru. “That was the main thing we achieved. The sup­port of the fans is re­ally good at the mo­ment.

“We, how­ever, re­main be­hind the best teams in the rank­ings. We know we have to im­prove. The ra­tio be­tween cre­at­ing op­por­tu­nity and scor­ing points is too weak at the mo­ment.”

France have some com­posed fly­halves to choose from. Camille Lopez was at the heart of Cler­mont’s surge to the Euro­pean Cham­pi­ons Cup and Top 14 fi­nals, while Jules Plis­son has kept Morne Steyn out of the Stade Fran­cais No 10 jersey.

They have game-break­ers like cen­tre Gael Fickou, scrumhalf Bap­tiste Serin and bar­rel-chested Vakatawa, but they also pos­sess grunt in the en­gine room.

Man moun­tain tight­head Uini An­to­nio weighs 155kg, but may not even make the start­ing lineup. Rabah Sla­mani is a more ac­com­plished scrum­mager, Yoann Maestri is the griz­zled, tow­er­ing en­forcer in the sec­ond row, while open-sider Kevin Gour­don has proved a rev­e­la­tion with Top 14 log­top­pers La Rochelle.

Those play­ing in the Top 14 fi­nal can make a bet­ter case for a start­ing berth in the sec­ond test at Kings Park, which means Noves’s op­tions will be lim­ited for next week’s first test at Lof­tus.

Ei­ther way, France will want to leave Dur­ban cock-a-hoop.

Pic­ture: GETTY IMAGES

PICK AND GO: No 8 Louis Pi­camoles is just one of the ob­sta­cles in South Africa’s path

WAIT­ING GAME: France coach Guy Noves can only pick his best start­ing team in the sec­ond test

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