JOHANNESBURG – A Springbok team that has been picked largely on form, but there’s also a good deal of insurance in certain selections made by coach Allister Coetzee.
Whether this side is good enough to beat France at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday is up for debate. We’ll only know how good this 23-man side is after the 80 minutes. What we do know is that they’re in for one helluva Test match.
The Boks are under pressure to start well after the disaster of the 2016 season, there are a bunch of newcomers in the mix and as Coetzee stated that “this is a new beginning”. If truth be told, we actually don’t know what we’re going to get from this Boks side.
All we can judge them on right now is the form the individuals will take into the Test and how well, or not, they may perform. So let’s look at this team.
First off, the back-three are a major concern. Andries Coetzee, Raymond Rhule and Courtnall Skosan are quality players for their franchises and have shown their attacking skills in Super Rugby for a few years now and they all deserve their chance ... whether they deserve that chance at the same time, with all of them on debut, is another matter.
They’re all gritty players, who play with heart and soul, but they’re also small and they’re likely to be peppered with the high ball. Defensively, there are question marks around Rhule and we can only hope he has a blinder in the tackling department.
Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel are a strong and exciting midfield pairing ... they’re both good going forward and they’re not easily breached in defence, so there are no problems there.
At least Coetzee has picked a 9-10 combination in Ross Cronje and Elton Jantjies that is familiar with each other and, boy, don’t these two men play well when they’re on the front foot. Add Warren Whiteley at eight and you have a crucial 8-9-10 combination that will drive the team forward.
It can only be hoped that Oupa Mohoje and Siya Kolisi complement that go-forward plan. The six and seven picked by Coetzee are quality operators, but playing them together is a gamble. They’re so similar ... there is no big ball-carrier between them, a man who’ll take the ball up, and neither man is really a fetcher. If the game is played at a quick pace a player like Jaco Kriel would have been ideal.
The lock pairing really picks itself and it’s great Coetzee has gone for Franco Mostert.
In the front row Malcolm Marx was the only real option at hooker – he has been outstanding for the Lions and plays like a loose-forward – while Beast Mtawarira brings plenty of experience to the set-up. Frans Malherbe is rather fortunate to have cracked the nod ahead of Ruan Dreyer at tighthead; the Lions man was certainly the standout No 3 in Super Rugby. He doesn’t even make the bench, which is a pity.
On the bench there’s great fire-power in the likes of Jean-Luc du Preez, Francois Hougaard, Frans Steyn and Dillyn Leyds. They could really make an impact when the French start running out of gas, but it would have been nice to see Du Preez and Steyn being slotted into the starting team somewhere.
It’s a Bok team with a Lions spine running through it – hooker, eighthman, scrumhalf, 10, and 15 – which is crucial and there could be some wonderful attacking play. It’s a team that should also excite the fans, but the key to this team playing an exciting brand of rugby, and winning, is whether the young rookies are able to deliver.