The Springboks must be ruthless in accepting nothing less than a 3-0 series win over Ireland this June, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Finally, the first Test week of the season has arrived. Despite relatively limited preparation time, Allister Coetzee must be desperately looking forward to getting that opening encounter under the belt.
On Sunday, the Springbok coach said he was 85% sure of what he wanted his first match 23 to look like, and when that team is announced on Thursday, the final pieces of the Bok puzzle will be in place.
So far, it’s been a rosy start to Coetzee’s tenure. His appointment was warmly welcomed in April, the unveiling of his first Bok squad appeared to garner countrywide approval, and his appointment of Adriaan Strauss as skipper drew few complaints.
And by all accounts, last week’s training in Stellenbosch was full of intensity and energy, with attending SA A coach Johan Ackermann describing it as some of the best preparation he’d seen in a while.
Yet now the Boks will take to the turf in a Test match cauldron, and the manner in which they perform against the Irish is sure to instantaneously alter public perception one way or another.
Coetzee has reiterated that the Boks will never neglect their set-piece work and defence, which he believes will provide the foundation for better attacking opportunities.
However, what he has emphasised is the need to increase the speed of movement into position to provide extra options on attack, while backing that up with a dynamic and decisive response when there is turnover ball in broken play.
This is the vision for the Boks, but it’s going to take time to perfect, and the first and only priority will be to ensure they come away with a positive three-Test result against an understrength Irish side that remains a team in transition.
In recent history, the Boks have traditionally done the business during the June incoming series. During Heyneke Meyer’s era, their worst result was a draw against England in 2012, while there was similar success during Peter de Villiers’s era (the only defeat coming in the third dead-rubber Test against the British & Irish Lions in 2009).
Again, when all is said and done, the Springboks must back themselves to comfortably overcome the Irish in each of the next three Tests. Regardless of the fact that Ireland come to South Africa without top players such as Johnny Sexton and the Kearney brothers, the Boks need to start this new era with only the highest standards accepted.
For too long, the All Blacks’ hegemony has been on a formidable incline, while the Springboks’ standing in world rugby appears to have plateaued.
Coetzee, as the new man at the helm, has been tasked with the immensely challenging, multi-faceted task of restoring the Boks’ identity both on and off the field, which includes ensuring transformation targets are met.
All Blacks counterpart Steve Hansen has often mentioned that the challenges facing a Bok coach are not ones that he would envy. Coetzee appears to have taken it all in his stride, but now the real pressure will move up a considerable few notches as the team heads into action.
Coetzee has picked players on form and there is a balance to the squad that suggests they can make a real statement of intent against the Irish. As it is, the Boks are currently ranked third behind the All Blacks and Wallabies, but the start of a new season heralds the opportunity to make up lost ground.
The word out of the Bok camp this past week has repeatedly revolved around the fact that their focus is primarily centred around what they want to achieve as a team and execute on game day as opposed to worrying too much about the opposition.
Indeed, if the Boks are able to deliver on the dynamism they’ve shown in training, and play anywhere near to their potential, they will prove to be far too strong for the seventh-ranked Irish.
The Springboks should win, and they should win well, and it’s what we must once again come to expect from a side that should not accept anything less than the best.
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