Allister Coetzee says the decision to start Rudy Paige and Morné Steyn at halfback against the Wallabies was precipitated by their familiarity with the Loftus conditions and the way the Boks want to play, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Johannesburg.
That double change was confirmed at Thursday’s team announcement at the Montecasino team hotel, where Coetzee insisted that the selection of Paige and Steyn at halfback, with Pat Lambie at fullback, was the best possible backline combination for this Saturday’s Test.
Paige and Steyn replace Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies after an inconsistent display from the Lions duo, who have started the last six Tests as the 9-10 pairing.
For Steyn, it's his first start since the Boks lost by a solitary point against the Wallabies in Perth two years ago, with a poor clearance kick from the flyhalf late in the game having been widely blamed for the loss.
Meanwhile, after four appearances off the bench, Paige will start his first Test at scrumhalf despite the fact he has had less than 20 minutes of game time with the Boks this season.
Both Paige and Steyn do boast stronger kicking games than De Klerk and Jantjies, and their selection does suggest the Boks will revert to a more pragmatic approach in what is effectively a must-win match.
However, Coetzee said that while an accurate territory-based game would always be a big factor at Test level, he insisted the changes did not mean that the Boks were just going to kick everything.
‘The changes are what we need at this point in the way we want to play and with the plan we have. Both Rudy and Morné are familiar with the conditions at Loftus and have been working extremely hard in our system. Although they may not have played together before as a combination, that’s not an issue. The selections are geared towards our game plan and executing that.
‘Both players have gone really well at training and this is a great opportunity for them now. Morné has been in and out of the squad for a while, but it shows the character of the player that he is still always trying to improve and get back into the team, which he’s done.’
Having said that, Coetzee acknowledged that both Paige and Steyn would have an important job to do in ensuring the Boks played from the right areas of the field.
‘A big concern for us is that we haven’t dominated the territory battle as we would have liked this season. We want to get into the opposition half and then apply scoreboard pressure. The message is not one of just “let’s kick and chase everything”, but we have attacked really well from our lineouts, and so we do want to create opportunities to attack off this set piece near to the opposition tryline.’
After the Springboks’ last defeat to the All Blacks, Coetzee said there would be consequences for underperforming players, and in that regard, the selection axe seems to have fallen on De Klerk, Jantjies and Johan Goosen.
Yet, Coetzee had a message for those players: ‘They are still part of a 31-man squad that will stay together for a while. Making mistakes is part of growing up, and having that experience builds character. This is an opportunity for them to improve, and I am someone who believes in second chances, so when they get another opportunity, then it’s up to them to take it.
‘Elton and Faf are still very much part of our system,’ he added. ‘Yes, there are things that they have to improve on and work at, but there’s a plan on the table in terms of the way we want to play.’
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