Allister Coetzee is set to name some of his most physical players on the Springbok bench for what should be a bruising battle against France on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI in Durban.
Media access to the French coaches and players has been limited in the buildup to a potentially series-deciding Test at Kings Park. On Tuesday, France moved their press gathering at the team hotel in Umhlanga to the training field in Durban North without alerting the local media.
Whether this is a deliberate ploy by the French management to keep the player talk in the South African newspapers and websites to a minimum, remains unclear.
Head coach Guy Novès hasn’t held back when addressing the travelling press, though. In Midi-Olympique this week, Novès described the poor physical performance by his charges at Loftus Versfeld as ‘laughable’.
The tourists were outplayed at the collisions and breakdowns and went on to lose 37-14. Novès lauded the Boks for their superior ‘physicality and athleticism’ after the game in Pretoria. Yet his more recent comments suggest that he is anything but happy with France’s attitude and accuracy.
The bottom line is that the Boks should expect a physical backlash of epic proportions this Saturday.
Novès is set to make a host of changes ahead of the second Test at Kings Park. A fair number of Clermont and Toulon players who weren’t available for the first Test should be included. The incoming forwards will have a mandate to bully the Boks at the set pieces, collisions and breakdowns.
On Monday, Coetzee acknowledged, at least in his press conference offerings, that the tourists will pose a greater threat with those star players back in tow. Whether Coetzee will acknowledge the physical threat of France by making changes to his own starting XV is another story.
The Bok team will be announced at 2pm on Thursday. Only one change is expected in the starting XV. No 13 Jesse Kriel has been ruled out after sustaining a concussion in the first Test. Coetzee has already confirmed that Lionel Mapoe is the favourite to replace Kriel at outside centre.
On Monday, the Bok coach explained that he would rather make a straight switch (swapping Mapoe for Kriel) than shift Jan Serfontein to outside centre and bring the multitalented 54-cap Frans Steyn in at No 12. It’s a selection that suggests Coetzee is largely satisfied with the standards set on defence and in the kicking game at Loftus last Saturday.
The reality is that the Boks will need to make a step up in intensity and physicality this Saturday. If they were really serious about lifting their performance in these departments, they would back a strong physical player and tactical kicker in Steyn at No 12.
The selection of the back row should also be a point of debate. Captain Warren Whiteley didn’t take part in the field session on Tuesday, but should feature at the practice later on Thursday. The Bok management is confident that Whiteley will be fit to lead the Boks this weekend.
Who will partner Whiteley in the back row? Coetzee has intimated that he will favour the same pack that impressed against France last week. Again, that statement suggests that Coetzee has underestimated the backlash from the French.
Oupa Mohoje is a strong player in space and at the lineout, but is simply not made for the battle at close quarters against the behemoths from the northern hemisphere. The Bok blindside flank had a relatively quiet game at Loftus. Indeed, Jean-Luc du Preez made a greater impact with his defence and overall work-rate when he came off the bench in the second stanza.
Coetzee would do well to reconsider backing Mapoe (as the one change in the backline) and Mohoje for the sake of continuity. France will demand more of the Boks this weekend, both tactically and physically. The Boks may not prevail if they simply look to replicate their performance in the first Test.
It’s also interesting to see that Ruan Combrinck has been picked to start for SA A against the French Barbarians on Friday. The Boks could have used Combrinck's experience, physicality and skill under the high ball against France at Kings Park on Saturday.
Why Coetzee insists on backing a relatively diminutive back-three combination that has three Test caps between them, is anyone’s guess. The Boks were routinely breached in the wider channels at Loftus last Saturday. In one instance, a wide breach led to a break by Yoann Huget and a try for Henry Chavancy.
The Boks won 37-14 at Loftus last week, but that result alone shouldn’t guarantee each and every player another opportunity in the starting XV. Coetzee may indeed come to regret his selections.
Steyn should be starting at 12. Du Preez, as the more physical and defensively sound player who can compete at the breakdown, should be at No 7.
The back three lack balance and experience, and it’s a matter of when rather than if that combination is exposed to a more telling degree.
Probable Boks – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Su bs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Coenie Ooshuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Dillyn Leyds.
Photo: Wessel Oosthuizen/Gallo Images