Who would've thought a year ago that Franco Mostert would be picked ahead of Pieter-Steph du Toit an Lood de Jager? Photo: Samuel Shivambu, BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – It looks like a pretty good side to me. The Springboks are built round the Lions, which is the way it should be.

In the past, it was usually dominant Bulls or Western Province sides that were the foundations of great Bok teams, and now it is the Lions who have earned the accolade.

They have been streets ahead of the rest in recent seasons and now selection sanity has prevailed.

It’s also good to see that quiet persistence has been rewarded with debuts for Andries Coetzee, Courtnall Skosan and Ross Cronjé. This sends an important message to all players: If you don’t get in, don’t spit the dummy, just keep at it and if you are good enough, your time will come. That’s right and proper in rugby. It’s fair.

It’s tough on Jaco Kriel, but injury must be respected and dealt with totally, and that includes getting back to game fitness. There will be bigger fish to fry in future for Kriel and hopefully Lionel Mapoe.

Franco Mostert is living proof of what can be achieved with persistence. Week after week he has confounded critics, and now starts deservedly ahead of Pieter-Steph du Toit and Lood de Jager. Who would have predicted that a year ago?

Hints from the coach confirm that Warren Whiteley will lead a side that will be numerically and also philosophically leonine in character, and this is crucial.

Elton Jantjies will thus be allowed to play in the manner that has been so effective and wonderful to watch in recent seasons, while Malcolm Marx is due a huge one in green on par with what he delivers in red. The rest must adapt and fit in. Happy days are here again.

Oh, I almost forgot. Now they just have to go out and perform against the most unpredictable rugby nation in the world, France.

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee will hope that his team's defence is better than last year. Photo: Kim Ludbrook, EPA


In a way, there are parallels with the British and Irish Lions.

Much has been said about the need for fairness in selection and treatment of their players as morale can be very fragile in this international coalition.

Much has also been spoken of the insane schedule they face in New Zealand. Remember, this was agreed to and lots can be deduced from it.

Coach Warren Gatland knows he will be judged on the Test series alone, and the key is the first Test. Of course, results leading up to it are important, but – and this is crucial – they are not all-important.

To get up to speed with Kiwi rugby requires experience in facing it. Two games are gone and another massive challenge was faced this morning against the Crusaders.

But away from the platitudes, clichés and apparent pain, he will be ticking boxes quietly. Set-pieces? Tick. Line speed? Tick. Match fitness? Tick. Character and passion? Tick. Goal kicking? Tick.

He has to get his players used to defending against the chaos created by offloads, kick-passing and the sheer speed of thought of the opposition.

That last Blues try on Wednesday encapsulated just why the Kiwis are so good. From nothing came two links made under fierce physical pressure. Chaos was created from nothing and then, Ihaia West finished it off with a level of speed, athleticism and skill that was breathtaking. Where is he in the national pecking order? Exactly.

The Lions play six trial matches before their first real game – the first Test.

Here’s a tough question: What if the Boks lose today? It will be sackcloth and ashes in public, but hopefully not behind the scenes. Hopefully the Tests up to the next World Cup are being regarded as important but not all-important.

John Robbie.


Set-pieces? Tick. Defence? Please tick, at least partially. The ability to cause chaos and from it, to recognise order and to strike? Please tick. Can the rest of the players get comfortable in the Lions set-up? That’s a big one, and requires single-minded stoicism when setbacks occur.

Jake White decided in 2004 to win the World Cup in 2007. He swallowed political interference, ridicule when he rested players, and anger when he sacrificed results.

Remember 49-0 in Brisbane? Remember his recall and appearance before the principals? He had confidence in his planning and players in the long run. He had confidence and self-belief, and he delivered.

Today is the start of prelims for the Boks. Remember that matric is two years ahead. We’re in it for the long run, and a year has been wasted. The long run for the British and Irish Lions is a few weeks; for the Boks it is two years, but the parallels are there.

Cool heads are needed but a win today, along with the ticks, would be so nice after last year.

* Robbie is a former Transvaal, Ireland and British Lions scrumhalf.

Saturday Star

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