Boks at the crossroads

Adriaan Strauss says the Springboks need to ‘win back that belief in ourselves’ as they get set to take on the Wallabies in Brisbane this Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

By all accounts, the Springboks have reached a crossroads. After five Tests together under new coach Allister Coetzee, there can be no more excuses. Performances now need to start reflecting the ‘promising plan’ that has been much spoken of.

Over the duration of the June series against Ireland and the opening two Tests of the Rugby Championship, Coetzee has made minimal unenforced changes to the team as he’s continued to endorse continuity in selection.

However, midfield impotency has finally enforced a bold reshuffle this week, which sees Juan de Jongh and Jesse Kriel combine as a 12-13 combination for the first time, while fleet-footed Francois Hougaard will look to add a spark on the wing.

Hougaard last played for the Boks on the 2014 end-of-year tour, and while he stated at the time that he wanted to focus on specialising at scrumhalf, it’s his versatility that has won him a recall to the starting lineup.

In the absence of injured Ruan Combrinck, Hougaard will start his sixth Test on the left wing, but he will also cover scrumhalf, which has allowed Coetzee to opt for a six-two forwards-to-backs split on the bench.

Indeed, when one compares the quality on the respective benches, the Boks do seem to have the edge with the ability to call on the likes of Franco Mostert, Jaco Kriel, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Lionel Mapoe.

However, there has to be some question marks over the balance of the 10-12-13 combination that will take to the field in Brisbane. Jantjies does appear to still have some defensive frailties (he slipped six tackles during the June series), while this is hardly a renowned strength of attack-minded Juan de Jongh.

There have also been indications that Kriel is still coming to grips with the defensive challenges of the outside centre berth, with the talented 22-year-old recently telling SA Rugby magazine that it was the one aspect that required the biggest adjustments in terms of his transition from fullback to 13.

There is no doubt that the performance and cohesion of the Boks’ new-look midfield combination will be a key aspect on Saturday, with the visitors once again coming up against the odds in the midst of mounting pressure following their recent defeat to Argentina in Salta.

History shows that the Wallabies have won six of their last seven games against South Africa in Australia, and despite the fact that Michael Cheika’s men have not won a game since last year’s World Cup semi-final, they have to be regarded as favourites this weekend.

On Friday, Strauss acknowledged that there still are ‘many shortcomings’ in the Boks’ game and that they needed to speed up the process of improvement.

‘My message to the players was that we needed to win back that belief in ourselves. There are quality individuals in the team. It's a good team. I have a lot of hope for the future. I told the players that I believe 100% in their ability and the processes we use going forward. The Test against the Wallabies is a nice challenge for us.’

And should the Boks pass this latest test on Saturday, there’s no doubt it would serve as a much-needed morale boost as they look to finally start heading in the right direction.

However, another defeat would mark yet another worrying detour for a team at a crucial crossroads.

Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

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