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Beware the wounded French

Springboks
DURBAN - The Springboks will not only have to be more physical in the second Test against France on Saturday but more inventive on attack, not to mention less charitable in leaving try-scoring opportunities on the table.

That was the view on Tuesday of attack coach Franco Smith, who says the Boks no longer have surprise on their side after going into the first Test last week as “something of a dark horse”.

Smith added that first-choice French players who will augment the side, after having not been considered last week because of the French Top 14 final, would add physicality to a French approach that in any case will step up a notch after the disappointment of losing at Loftus Versfeld.

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Andries Coetzee breaks the line in the first Test against France at Loftus Versfeld. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

“They will be a different animal,” said Smith, who played four seasons of European rugby for Italian club Treviso. “I know their mentality well. The French players respond positively to defeat. They do not like losing two matches in a row and they will come at us at Kings Park. They will have done their homework on us and will look to close us down out wide. 

"They know that we are wanting to play with width and we need to look at ways of countering how they plan to shut us down out wide.”

But Smith said that by the same token, the Boks had learned a great deal about themselves from the first Test.

“We had our camps (during Super Rugby) and two weeks in Plettenberg Bay and we now have footage to examine as to what worked and what did not,” the Cheetahs coach said. “It was important for us to just get this one under the belt and then have something concrete to work with.”

Springbok defence coach Brendan Venter (left) and head coach Allister Coetzee. Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

Smith said that meant the Boks had a foundation to work on in the face of a French backlash, and would prepare accordingly.

Backline coach Smith has lost outside centre Jesse Kriel to injury but said he agreed with coach Allister Coetzee that the best thing for the backline would be to simply bring in a replacement at 13 rather than reshuffle the midfield.

Lions centre Lionel Mapoe is expected to slot in alongside Jan Serfontein and there will be no temptation to bring in the experienced Frans Steyn, who can play either 12 or 13.

“It is a pity for Jesse,” Smith said. 

“We would all have liked to see him build on his good performance and settle down at 13 after having been played around the backline. So it is bad luck for him, but at the same time we know that we have to grow our depth, and Jesse will be back.”

Smith said that 12 was a vital decision-making position and consistency should be preferred.

“I played there myself (for the Cheetahs, Treviso and the Boks) and while I know how vital it is to make calls from 12, we have also been looking to shift some of the decision-making to 13. But for now it is about continuity as much as possible and the backline will be more settled if we make just one change.”

Raymond Rhule tackled by Brice Dulin of France during the 2017 Incoming Rugby Series between South Africa and France at Loftus Stadium. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

So, while Steyn is unlikely to start at his old home ground, Smith said his influence was massive. The 30-year-old is something of an institution in French rugby, having spent so many seasons with Racing Metro and Montpellier, and is a font of information on the Boks’ adversaries.

“Frans is a very popular guy in the squad. I worked with him when he was still at school (at Grey College in Bloemfontein) and was disappointed when we lost him to the Sharks,” Smith said. “It is great to have him back and he is very positive about his role in the squad.

“He is a young old guy," Smith smiled, "and his knowledge of French rugby has been invaluable. He has been a big influence for us and has contributed hugely off the field. The guys really look up to him.”

Smith said that his backline had left four clear try-scoring changes on the Loftus turf and that his charges had to be more clinical this week.

The Mercury

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