Coetzee’s balancing act begins

Allister Coetzee has picked a group of players that can meet SA Rugby’s transformation requirements. Whether it can win major Tests and tournaments in 2016 is another story, writes JON CARDINELLI.

On Saturday evening, Coetzee explained his selections to the media and public. The new Bok coach highlighted the need for balance in a Test squad, that is a healthy balance between youth and experience as well as a necessary mix of players based at home and abroad.

Of course, it would be naive to assume that SA Rugby’s transformation drive didn’t influence Coetzee’s selections. In fact, Coetzee and SA Rugby president Oregan Hoskins went as far to say that transformation remains a priority and that the SA A side will serve as a finishing school for promising black stars.

Coetzee remains positive about the future of the Boks. On Saturday, he spoke optimistically about SA Rugby’s goals to excel on the Test stage and field a team that is more reflective of the country’s demographics.

A scroll through the names in the Bok and SA A squads reveals why Coetzee is so enthused. When one considers how many players are currently unavailable due to injuries and Springbok Sevens commitments, one understands that South Africa is not wanting for raw black talent.

The challenge, however, is finding a way to develop that talent and then use it to win big Tests and tournaments. Indeed, this will be the challenge for Coetzee, not just in the short term, but over the next four years.

Other national coaches might concern themselves with the balance between youth and experience. Coetzee and his management team will have the added challenge of meeting a transformation requirement. SA Rugby has declared that black players must comprise 35% of Super Rugby and national teams in 2016, and 50% in 2019.

At the same time, Coetzee will be under pressure to win his first series at the helm. Even a single defeat will be heavily criticised, as it would mark South Africa’s first ever Test loss to Ireland at home.

The Boks will spend two weeks together in the lead-up to the first Test. You wouldn’t blame them if they favoured a tried and tested game plan employed by the previous regime.

Coetzee has picked a 31-man squad for the June Tests. Nine of those players have no Test experience. Six have fewer than 10 Test caps. Only eight have more than 30 caps.

Coetzee has made it clear that the players in the SA A squad will be considered for Test selection in the event of injuries. And yet only six players in the SA A group have Test experience. Four players of colour made their Super Rugby debuts earlier this season.

All this needs to be considered. Expectations of an improved performance in 2016 must be tempered accordingly.

At present, the Bok coach is in a position to pick a matchday squad that meets transformation targets. At the same time, he is in a position to pick a 23 that can win the first Test against Ireland (see below).

Both of those goals may be compromised further down the line, however, when the long season takes its toll and key players fall foul to injuries. In the Rugby Championship, where experience is needed in more demanding clashes against the Wallabies and All Blacks, the Boks may be exposed.

The 2016 Test season will serve up several new challenges for a Bok side in transition. Coetzee's management skills will be put to the test like never before.

Possible Springbok match 23 to face Ireland in first Test – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.

Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli