JOHANNESBURG - South African rugby fans shouldn’t expect a miracle turn-around by the Springboks against France this weekend. In fact, another defeat looks very much to be on the cards.
There are virtually no reasons to be positive and upbeat - except perhaps that Duane Vermeulen will likely be back in the team and bring a new vibrancy to the pack - but plenty of reasons to be very worried that another poor showing by Allister Coetzee’s men is in the offing.
First and foremost is the fact Coetzee and his management team have failed to find the recipe to win outside of SA’s borders. The under-fire coach’s overall record reads: played 22, won nine, lost 11 and drawn two for a 40.9% win rate.
Coetzee’s Boks have won only one match away from home - earlier this season against Argentina in Salta (41-23). And, let’s not forget that this year’s Argentina side were hardly a factor in the Rugby Championship, losing all of their matches and not picking up one log point in the competition.
The other nine Tests abroad have either ended in defeat (eight times) or a draw (once). The defeats in 2016 came against Argentina (24-26), Australia (17-23), New Zealand (13-41), England (21-37), Italy (18-20) and Wales (13-27); and this year the Boks have also lost on the road to New Zealand (0-57) and now Ireland (3-38). They also drew with Australia (23-23) earlier this year.
Added to this, and ensuring the Boks’ task in Paris will be as difficult as it was in Albany, Dublin, London and Cardiff, among other places in the last two years, is the fact that the French are perhaps even more desperate than the Boks to win this weekend.
Les Bleus are hurting after going down 18-38 to the All Blacks last weekend and losing all three Tests to Coetzee’s men in SA in June - a four-match losing streak that has not gone down well in France. It is understood that French rugby authorities and the media are calling it vital that their team beat the Boks to avoid a “crisis” in French rugby.
Furthermore, Wednesday's announcement of the host country for the 2023 World Cup by World Rugby in London is likely to also be at the back of the minds of the French team and supporters if, as expected, it is SA who come out on top, and not France. Ireland are the other country in the running, but are not expected to feature prominently in the vote. France though have been very vocal - and angry - about losing out to SA as the “preferred candidate”, announced two weeks ago.
If indeed, SA win the vote - a majority of 39 - there is sure to be a major backlash by Les Bleus who will want to make a point that World Rugby and the voters got it wrong and that French rugby should still be taken seriously.
And then there is the pressure on Coetzee to pick a team that will be able to turn things around within a week.
Every selection on Thursday will come under scrutiny, and probably be questioned, every player picked will feel the heat come Saturday and not only will Coetzee be under the microscope again, but his assistant coaches Franco Smith and Brendan Venter as well, men he picked and who at one stage were thought of as the guys who would fix the Boks.
It’s a big week for the Boks - and French - on many fronts.