JOHANNESBURG – Springbok coach Allister Coetzee heralded the beginning of a new era after his side swept all three matches of France’s tour, cruising to a 35-12 victory in Saturday’s final Test.
“We wanted to set the record straight and prove that we had flipping good players, it’s self-pride,” he said following the whitewash in front of 55 820 spectators at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park.
The Boks’ stellar series performance firmly put to bed 2016’s awful run of form in which the side lost eight of 12 Tests – a calendar-year record.
But Saturday’s crowning victory came despite the absence of Bok skipper and No 8 Warren Whiteley, who was out with a groin injury. He was replaced by lock Eben Etzebeth.
“Warren’s injury has been a bit of a niggle – a groin strain initially. We gave him time, then he landed awkwardly. Then on Friday we sent him for a scan,” said Coetzee.
“There was a little tear which we didn’t want to risk any longer. In this case, it was a no-brainer to keep Warren out of the team and make sure he recovers – the team consists of 31 players. It was never really big for us.”
It is unclear how long Whiteley will be out of action. South Africa next play on August 19 in a Rugby Championship opener against Argentina in Port Elizabeth.
The Boks bounce-back began a fortnight ago in Pretoria when they battered France 37-14, going on to win 37-15 in Durban a week later.
“We started out at Loftus with a lot of expectation, then we went to Durban and we won the series – it was about the serious business of turning this around. I’m just happy that everyone from the guy that does the logistics to the manager was back.”
But Saturday’s victory did not come easily for the hosts. “Whether it was pretty or not – we had some execution problems. I’ve never seen a team chase so hard... losing the captain on Friday, and keeping the French tryless,” said Coetzee.
Jean-Luc du Preez moved from flank to replace Whiteley at No 8, with Jaco Kriel coming off the bench to start, while Etzebeth stepped into the breach as skipper.
“Welcome to the best day of my life,” said Etzebeth. “It was easy to slot into Warren’s place. To take the captain’s oath has been quite easy for me. Everyone is a captain of their own position.”
France coach Guy Noves faced probing questions following his side’s third and final defeat of the tour. He can expect that Les Bleus’ performance in Japan in November will be closely scrutinised.
“The first positive is that after a bad start, we still kept going – even 10-0 down. But the most important thing is that we are beginning to realise the work we have to do to get close to these big teams,” said Noves.
“With that, we hope to be able to challenge the Springboks in the future. I will be speaking to my players first because there are some points to be raised individually.”
On being told that his side was the first French team to lose at Ellis Park, Noves shrugged and said: “That’s not my problem.”