UNANIMOUS CHOICES: From left, hooker Malcolm Marx, lock Pieter-Steph du Toit and flyhalf Elton Jantjies were common picks by our rugby writers.BackpagePix
UNANIMOUS CHOICES: From left, hooker Malcolm Marx, lock Pieter-Steph du Toit and flyhalf Elton Jantjies were common picks by our rugby writers.BackpagePix
UNANIMOUS CHOICES: From left, hooker Malcolm Marx, lock Pieter-Steph du Toit and flyhalf Elton Jantjies were common picks by our rugby writers.BackpagePix
UNANIMOUS CHOICES: From left, hooker Malcolm Marx, lock Pieter-Steph du Toit and flyhalf Elton Jantjies were common picks by our rugby writers.BackpagePix
UNANIMOUS CHOICES: From left, hooker Malcolm Marx, lock Pieter-Steph du Toit and flyhalf Elton Jantjies were common picks by our rugby writers.BackpagePix
UNANIMOUS CHOICES: From left, hooker Malcolm Marx, lock Pieter-Steph du Toit and flyhalf Elton Jantjies were common picks by our rugby writers.BackpagePix
THE Springboks open their 2017 campaign with the first of three Test matches against France at Loftus on Saturday. Allister Coetzee has a 31-man squad, but who will be the chosen 15? Here rugby writers Jacques van der Westhuyzen, Wynona Louw, Vata Ngobeni, Mike Greenaway and Darryn Pollock stick their necks out and pick their Bok starting team.

JACQUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN

Duane Vermeulen wouldn’t make my matchday-23 because he only arrives in South Africa five days before the first Test, but Frans Steyn would definitely make my starting team.

The 30-year-old from Montpellier is an experienced operator and will know a thing or two about the French players and the way they go about their business. Don’t forget Steyn also spend three years playing for Racing Metro.

With Ruan Combrinck not in the squad, I’d go with Lionel Mapoe on the right wing because he knows how debutant Andries Coetzee thinks and plays his game, and with an all-Lions back-three, combined with the 9-10 combination and captain Warren Whiteley at eighthman, you’ve got a spine that is comfortable with each other.

The only tough call up front is who to play in the second row. Eben Etzebeth’s short fuse could play into French hands, hence I’d go with him as the impact player later on, with workhorses Franco Mostert and Pieter-Steph du Toit starting. Mostert can even call the lineouts, seeing he knows hooker Malcolm Marx well from their time at the Lions.

On the bench you’ve got some serious firepower, but also explosive speed and skill among the backs reserves.

My Bok team

15 Andries Coetzee 14 Lionel Mapoe 13 Jan Serfontein 12 Frans Steyn 11 Courtnall Skosan 10 Elton Jantjies 9 Ross Cronje 8 Warren Whiteley 7 Siya Kolisi 6 Jaco Kriel 5 Franco Mostert 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit 3 Ruan Dreyer 2 Malcolm Marx 1 Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi 17 Lizo Gqoboka 18 Frans Malherbe 19 Eben Etzebeth 20 Jean-Luc du Preez 21 Francois Hougaard 22 Dillyn Leyds 23 Jesse Kriel

WYNONA LOUW

I didn’t go with Duane Vermeulen in the starting XV because whether he will even feature in the first Test against France remains to be seen (depending on when he joins the squad).

Vermeulen can bring a wealth of experience to a squad that has a number of uncapped players, and he’s been in top form abroad, but regardless of his ETA, one should also keep in mind that a late arrival can do nothing good for the team in terms on preparation, no matter how experienced they are.

Anyway, adding Du Preez in there can add all the physicality and defender-smashing ability that Allister Coetzee would want at least one of his loosies to possess.

Then there’s fullback. Andries Coetzee has been in superb form for the Lions, so he gets the nod over more experienced campaigners. At inside centre, Damian de Allende is obviously yet to return to his best form, and there’s of course a midfielder with a killer boot, physicality and the ability to distribute the ball like a pivot in Frans Steyn. But longer term, De Allende is Coetzee’s best bet.

The halfbacks were one of the easiest choices on this list, simply because I think there’s no better No 10 than Elton Jantjies around, and if you’ve seen Rudy Paige this season, you’d understand why I didn’t even add him on the bench.

My Bok team

15 Andries Coetzee 14 Courtnall Skosan 13 Lionel Mapoe 12 Damian de Allende 11 Dillyn Leyds 10 Elton Jantjies 9 Ross Cronje 8 Warren Whiteley 7 Jean-Luc du Preez 6 Siya Kolisi 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit 4 Eben Etzebeth 3 Ruan Dreyer 2 Malcolm Marx 1 Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi 17 Steven Kitshoff 18 Coenie Oosthuizen 19 Franco Mostert 20 Duane Vermeulen 21 Francois Hougaard 22 Raymond Rhule 23 Jesse Kriel

MIKE GREENAWAY

Allister Coetzee has surely learned his lesson from last year when he picked a team to play Ireland that in some ways was a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ in that it had no common thread running through the side. This year the coach must cram a number of Lions players into the starting line-up and cash in on their confidence and Super Rugby momentum. Vital is the Lions axis of No 8 Whiteley, Cronje (9) and Jantjies (10). I would have nine or even 10 Lions in the starting line-up - I have gone for Pieter-Steph du Toit in the second row because of his pedigree, but was tempted to pick Franco Mostert.

My Bok team

15 Andries Coetzee 14 Dillyn Leyds 13 Lionel Mapoe 12 Frans Steyn 11 Courtnall Skosan 10 Elton Jantjies 9 Ross Cronje 8 Warren Whiteley 7 Siya Kolisi 6 Jaco Kriel 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit 4 Eben Etzebeth 3 Ruan Dreyer 2 Malcolm Marx 1 Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Duane Vermuelen, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Francois Hougaard, 23 Jesse Kriel

VATA NGOBENI

There is plenty of justification to reward players who have performed in Super Rugby, but experience at international level will always be key when playing Test match rugby.

Allister Coetzee will have the good fortune of picking a team that brims with players who have shown their hands in Super Rugby, and some wily old heads who’ve been there and done that.

If the Springboks are going to play the expansive game Coetzee so eloquently speaks of, then the likes of Lizo Gqoboka, Malcolm Marx and Ruan Dreyer are your mobile - but solid - front row.

The second row all but picks itself, with the two Stormers locks forming a formidable partnership.

Coetzee clearly doesn’t believe in having a fetcher and so Jaco Kriel will have to fill that role in the same way he has done at the Lions, and he will also be handy with ball in hand when the game opens up.

With Kriel and Warren Whiteley more adept at the running game, Siya Kolisi will be the perfect man to bring that brute force and do all the hard toil when the game gets tight.

Lionel Mapoe’s elevation from the SA ‘A’ side after the injury to Lukhanyo Am could be a blessing in disguise, and Mapoe’s versatility will plug the gap at right wing.

The return of Francois Hougaard at scrumhalf will bring much-needed stability and his experience will relieve a lot of the pressure from flyhalf Elton Jantjies.

Frans Steyn is still the real deal at number 12 and his kicking abilities will also add to the Boks’ arsenal.

My Bok team

15 Jesse Kriel 14 Lionel Mapoe 13 Jan Serfontein 12 Frans Steyn 11 Courtnal Skosan 10 Elton Jantjies 9 Francois Hougaard 8 Warren Whiteley 7 Siya Kolisi 6 Jaco Kriel 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit 4 Eben Etzebeth 3 Ruan Dreyer 2 Malcolm Marx 1 Lizo Gqoboka.

Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi 17 Tendayi Mtawarira 18 Steven Kitshoff 19 Franco Mostert 20 Jean-Luc du Preez 21 Ross Cronje 22 Damian de Allende 23 Andries Coetzee.

DARRYN POLLOCK

In what feels like a redo from last year’s disaster, it is important for coach Allister Coetzee to select a team that is familiar with each other, at least in terms of positions.

The Sharks props have had a new lease of life this year, with their scrumming, and ball carrying, coming on nicely.

The old firm of the Stormers locks is probably the Boks’ best weapon and would be hard to beat in comparison to any other team in world rugby.

For the loosies, the balancing of a silky link man like Whiteley with the hardworking and to-the-ball attitude of Kriel and the brutal grunt of Du Preez covers all bases.

For the backs, a familiar spine of no 8, scrumhalf and flyhalf are key, so it would be wise to go with the Lions’ “tried and tested”.

The Bulls’ combo in the centres has a lot of promise and with the wings being very green, the experience, and siege gun boot of Steyn will ease pressure at the back.

My Bok team

15 Frans Steyn 14 Courtnall Skosan 13 Jesse Kriel 12 Jan Serfontein 11 Raymond Rhule 10 Elton Jantjies 9 Ross Cronje 8 Warren Whiteley 7 Jean-Luc du Preez 6 Jaco Kriel 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit 4 Eben Etzebeth 3 Coenie Oosthuizen 2 Malcolm Marx 1 Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Steven Kitshoff 18 Frans Malherbe 19 Franco Mostert 20 Siya Kolisi 21 Francois Hougaard 22 Damian de Allende 23 Andries Coetzee