Allister Coetzee says that No 8 Duane Vermeulen and flyhalf Handré Pollard will be key as the Springboks look to play a pragmatic game against France. JON CARDINELLI in Paris reports.
The Boks went down 38-3 to Ireland in Dublin last Saturday. In the aftermath, the gainline and breakdown performance was duly slammed, as was the game management of the halfback pairing.
Coetzee has responded by making several significant changes to his starting side ahead of the Test against France in Paris this Saturday. Vermeulen will slot in at No 8, Pollard at 10, and Francois Venter at 12. Wilco Louw comes in for the injured Coenie Oosthuizen at tighthead prop.
Last month, Vermeulen made a comeback from a serious injury to feature in two games for his club Toulon. At the time, Coetzee felt that Vermeulen’s fitness still wasn’t up to standard, and omitted him from the 34-man squad for the four-Test tour of Europe.
It would appear that the Bok coach has had a change of heart. Pieter-Steph du Toit’s injury – the lock-cum-blindside flank sustained a concussion against Ireland – as well as the weak leadership performance in that record loss in Dublin may have influenced the decision to recall the veteran No 8.
‘It was good to have a look at him in training and he has slotted in nicely,’ Coetzee said on Thursday. ‘It’s a logical selection after losing Pieter-Steph du Toit, who’s a really good lineout exponent. Duane suits that role perfectly.
‘At least there’s a specialist No 8 in the team now. Duane will bring a lot of leadership to the mix and support Eben Etzebeth.
‘Duane is familiar with the conditions here in France. We know what he can do and what he brings defensively. He will be tremendous at the collisions and breakdowns for us this weekend. Duane’s inclusion is a positive one.’
Coetzee feels that Pollard could also make a game-shaping impact at the Stade de France on Saturday. Elton Jantjies impressed in the home series against France, but was less convincing in the Rugby Championship clashes against the All Blacks and in the most recent defeat to Ireland.
‘It’s a great opportunity for Handré,’ said Coetzee. ‘I would like our 10s to manage the game properly in terms of implementing our plan. Getting the balance right. Getting us into the right areas. The other important thing is to get scoreboard pressure.
‘Handré is an experienced player and things have gone well this week. I’ve been impressed with the attitude of the players after that defeat to Ireland. Now it’s up to them to go and perform this weekend.’
The Bok defence will have a point to prove on defence after leaking 38 points against Ireland. Coetzee acknowledged that France have several individuals who are capable of hurting South Africa this Saturday.
‘They have an exciting halfback combination. That sniping scrumhalf [Antoine Dupont] really played well against the All Blacks last week. The flyhalf [Anthony Belleau] is a really elusive runner and will add spice to the game.
‘Mathieu Bastareaud will attempt to get them over the gainline and generate momentum. The collisions will be the first priority, getting over the gainline, and after that the set piece. Dominance needs to be earned.
‘You’ve got to play in the right areas in a game that kicks off at 9pm in the northern hemisphere,’ the Bok coach reiterated. ‘You’ve got to take the points. In the past, Bok teams have kept the scoreboard ticking. It’s always been tough to win here and the players know that they will have to be at their best in all departments to get the result. ‘
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