They're coming off a 57-0 hiding and desperate to show they’re not that bad, but don’t expect Springbok coach Allister Coetzee to make wholesale changes to the team that crashed to the All Blacks just over a week ago.
Coetzee - who will tell you he prefers to see a glass half full rather than half empty - seemed to still find positives from that mauling in Albany a week ago,even though the Boks conceded eight tries, didn’t score a point, crumbled in the scrums, collapsed in the lineouts, failed to threaten the opposition line and slipped off tackles as if the All Blacks players had grease on their jerseys.
It was a humiliating day for the Boks - and for the history of Test rugby in this country.
But as captain Eben Etzebeth said a week ago when he lead his team back into the country at OR Tambo International, it was the first defeat the team has suffered this year and that, hopefully, it was a one-off bad day at the office.
True. The Boks, until last Saturday, had shown signs of progression after the disasters of 2016, winning three times against France, twice against Argentina and drawing with Australia, in Perth. It’s still, overall, been a pretty good run in 2017 for Coetzee and his Boks. But, losing 57-0 to the All Blacks almost wipes out the “good”, with the whole season virtually relying on what happens now at home against Australia and New Zealand, and then on the November tour of Europe.
First up for the Boks are the Wallabies in Bloemfontein on Saturday, a side Coetzee’s team drew 23-23 with a fortnight ago. It’s a match the Boks will feel they should’ve and could’ve won, but they’ll rue a poor first half when there was simply too much kicking by the visitors. They’ll back themselves to get the win in Bloemfontein, but then they’re going to have to put behind them the Albany disaster as quickly as possible.
Reputations took a beating last weekend, among them wing Raymond Rhule, who’s copped plenty of flak for nine missed tackles, hooker Malcolm Marx for missing his lineout men, props Ruan Dreyer and Trevor Nyakane, scrumhalf Francois Hougaard and the entire backrow of Uzair Cassiem, Jean-Luc du Preez and Siya Kolisi, who were comprehensively outplayed by their opposite numbers.
Hougaard has subsequently been booted out of the squad, with the Sharks’ Louis Schreuder coming in, even though he’s unlikely to feature in the next two weeks, while the addition of winger S’bu Nkosi gives Coetzee an extra option among his outside backs.
Veteran flank Francois Louw is also back, coming in for the injured Jaco Kriel. So who will Coetzee turn to to help restore Bok pride?
He’s not likely to make sweeping changes, which will result in Andries Coetzee remaining at 15, with the centre pairing of Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel also staying intact. Elton Jantjies is sure to remain at 10, but a healthy Ross Cronje will return at scrumhalf, with possibly Rudy Paige as his back-up. Who plays on the wings is anyone’s guess, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Dillyn Leyds came in on the left in place of Rhule, the Western Province man bringing size, pace and X-factor to the back-three.
At only 21 and still raw, Nkosi is unlikely to start, but he might get a look in on the bench.
Up front, there could be several changes, or very few. Louw, with all his experience, his size and his ball-winning ability on the ground, is almost certain to start at openside flank, with Kolisi at seven. Cassiem, seeing that the match is on his home patch and hasn’t really done anything wrong to be dropped, may remain at eighthman, but Coetzee will also consider involving Sharks man Daniel du Preez.
Etzebeth will lead the side at number four lock, but any one of Franco Mostert, Lood de Jager and Pieter-Steph du Toit could fill the No 5 jumper position and do the calling. Mostert will be desperate to make up for the communication errors made in Albany, but his starting is no guarantee.
Then there’s the front row. Is it time to hand the hugely impressive-off-the-bench Steven Kitshoff a start ahead of Beast Mtawarira and also see what Bongi Mbonambi and Chiliboy Ralepelle bring to the set-up at hooker?
Leaving out the powerful and brilliant ball-scavenging hooker that is Marx would be a bit unfair though, especially after just one poor lineout showing in New Zealand when there are more people than just the hooker at play in the No 2 finding his lineout jumper.
And with the Boks’ three first choice tighthead props sidelined, it’s a matter of going with Ruan Dreyer - again, despite him convincing at Test level - or Trevor Nyakane, who’s actually a loosehead, or the untried but hugely promising Wilco Louw. Expect the latter to get a crack. But how Coetzee must wish for a Julian Redelinghuys, Frans Malherbe or Coenie Oosthuizen to call on right now.
There’s plenty for Coetzee and his assistants to ponder in the coming days. Most of all though, he dare not lose against the Wallabies, not with the All Blacks waiting for the Boks in Cape Town where it’ll be “neutral ground” in the match that may make or break Coetzee and his Boks of 2017.
Backs: Andries Coetzee, Dillyn Leyds, Raymond Rhule, Courtnall Skosan, S’bu Nkosi, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel, Jan Serfontein, Handre Pollard, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje, Rudy Paige, Louis Schreuder
Forwards: Uzair Cassiem, Dan du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Siya Kolisi, Francois Louw, Franco Mostert, Lood de Jager, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Ruan Dreyer, Wilco Louw, Trevor Nyakane, Beast Mtawarira, Steven Kitschoff, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Chiliboy Ralepelle