Siya Kolisi has been outstanding for the Springboks against France. Photo: Gavin Barker, BackpagePix
Siya Kolisi has been outstanding for the Springboks against France. Photo: Gavin Barker, BackpagePix
Elton Jantjies has looked like the million-dollar flyhalf for the Boks that he is at the Lions. Photo: Gavin Barker, BackpagePix
Elton Jantjies has looked like the million-dollar flyhalf for the Boks that he is at the Lions. Photo: Gavin Barker, BackpagePix
Allister Coetzee can be satisfied with the series win over France, but bigger challenges lie ahead. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu, BackpagePix
Allister Coetzee can be satisfied with the series win over France, but bigger challenges lie ahead. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu, BackpagePix

CAPE TOWN – From the disaster of 2016, almost anything would’ve been better for the Springboks this year.

And let’s not begrudge Allister Coetzee and his team their moment in the sun – a 2-0 series win over France.

Last year this time, it was 1-1 against Ireland, due to a second-half rally at Ellis Park,  and they held out for a 2-1 triumph in Port Elizabeth.

We know what happened after that, and it led to a series of nightmares – defeat to Argentina, a 50-pointer against the All Blacks in Durban, and the last straw, going down to Italy in Florence.

Well, it was nearly the last straw, but SA Rugby decided to give Coetzee a second chance to fix the mistakes he refused to acknowledge throughout 2016.

On the evidence of the build-up to the French series and what happened on the field, the Springbok coach has made a quantum leap in every respect.

The two most important factors in that regard are selection and game plan. As has been mentioned on this platform by my colleagues, the fact that Coetzee opted for a Lions core in the Bok side was the first step in the right direction.

It is a real pity that the coach didn’t go down that path last year, instead picking an uninspiring Adriaan Strauss as the captain (despite knowing that he would retire from Test rugby at the end of the year), and a number of players on reputation instead of form.

It would’ve saved us all a lot of angst.

Ross Cronjé has got the ball out quickly to his flyhalf. Photo: Gavin Barker, BackpagePix


And then there is the style of play. Coetzee opted for his usual percentage game, with forwards who were supposed to bash their way through the All Blacks and an uninventive backline trying to minimise mistakes.

The paradigm shift has been the fact that the 2016 Boks played not to lose, while the new 2017 version play to win.

It might sound like a simple concept, but it comes down to this – the fear of failure can be debilitating to any sports team. Just ask the Proteas…

The shackles have been removed by Coetzee this year, and the results are there for all to see. 

Suddenly Elton Jantjies looks like the million-dollar flyhalf we see every week in Super Rugby, and a scrumhalf in Ross Cronjé gets the ball to his pivot instead of first looking to break himself.

Eben Etzebeth has replaced his shoving tactics for breaching the advantage line, Siya Kolisi and Franco Mostert’s engines never stop purring, and even Jan Serfontein is getting back to the man who was voted the world’s best Under-20 player in 2012.

But let’s add a dose of reality to that cloud we’re floating on…

This is a French side at the end of their season, who couldn’t prepare with their best players for the tour because their Currie Cup final took preference, and one that ended third in the Six Nations – yes, it was only on points difference, but they lost to champions England, as well as Ireland.

Coach Guy Noves made eight changes to the side that lost 37-14 in the first Test at Loftus Versfeld.

Jan Serfontein is starting to regain the form that made him the best Under-20 player in the world. Photo: Gavin Barker, BackpagePix


And despite it being a new team that hadn’t time to hatch proper plans for the second game at Kings Park, they placed the Boks under enormous pressure, taking the ball through 25-plus phases in one passage of play, over 15 in another and again 20-odd.

Credit to the Boks that they managed to hold out the Tricolores, which was due to a combination of Brendan Venter’s defensive organisation, as well as the never-say-die attitude of Warren Whiteley and his men.

But better teams will exploit such attacking opportunities, and that is what is looming for the Boks in the Rugby Championship.

There are also some question marks in the Bok side at the moment. Are Raymond Rhule and Courtnall Skosan the best options at wing? What is the ideal centre combination?

The loose trio is also still up for debate, and is Tendai Mtawarira still the best loosehead prop in South Africa? What purpose does Frans Steyn, and once he’s fit, Duane Vermeulen, fulfil?

Apart from the All Blacks, you can be sure that the Wallabies will recover from their shock loss to Scotland by the time August comes around, and so too Argentina, who lost to England at home.

It’s a good start for Allister Coetzee and his Bok team, but let’s not get carried away just yet.

The real test is still on the horizon, and only if they emerge with credit from the Rugby Championship can the annus horribilis of 2016 be exorcised…

IOL Sport

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