HOW much has the Springbok team literally changed in one year since that Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Wales at Twickenham, which ended so famously for the Boks when Fourie du Preez scored a sensational try in the fading minutes to secure a 23-19 win?
Only two players who started that day are again in the starting line-up announced Thursday by coach Allister Coetzee for the season-ending clash with the Welsh in Cardiff Saturday.
They are lock Lood de Jager and loosehead prop Beast Mtawarira.
There are a few others involved in that epic October 17 match who survive in the current match 23.
Lock Pieter-Steph du Toit was on the bench last year and starts tomorrow, as is the case with hooker and captain Adriaan Strauss, while utility back Patrick Lambie and prop Trevor Nyakane are on the bench, as they were for that famous win over the Welsh that set up a semi-final showdown with New Zealand.
Most of the Welsh squad who played that day are in the squad to play the Boks, although there was a blow for the home side yesterday when captain Sam Warburton was ruled out by injury, to be replaced by another veteran flank in Dan Lydiate.
So much has changed for the Springboks in just over a year. Many of the changes have come through natural evolution with the retirement of players such as Du Preez, Victor Matfield and Schalk Burger, while others, such as Bismarck du Plessis and his brother, Jannie, are based overseas but not preferred to home-based players.
Then there are injuries to players such as Jesse Kriel, Francois Louw and Handre Pollard.
Yet others seem to be wrestling with Father Time, surely the case with JP Pietersen and even Bryan Habana, both of whom are excluded from the match 23 for Saturday, while fellow backs from last year’s starting line-up, Willie le Roux and Damian de Allende, have been dropped.
There are still others who have rendered themselves indisposed because of comments made about the Springboks this season.
Most prominent in this group is No 8 Duane Vermeulen, who was originally in the Bok squad against Ireland in June, got injured, later made sobering comments about the Boks and is now persona non grata.
However you look at it, the Springbok team is in radical transition. A year ago, it was a vastly different-looking entity, one that for various reasons (and not all of them are the fault of the coach) is bereft of form, confidence and belief.
In short, as Austin Powers would put it, the Boks have lost their mojo.
Can it return for the curtain call in Cardiff?
Unlikely, given the body language of the players after that utterly horrendous performance against Italy last week when the bowed heads and rounded shoulders suggested players who were praying that the Starship Enterprise would appear over Florence and issue an order from Captain Kirk to ‘Beam them up, Scotty’.
Well, coach Coetzee has ‘beamed up’ a number of them and there are widespread changes for this last-gasp attempt at redemption.
There are key changes at 9, 10 and 12, where there is the introduction of the Lions axis of Faf de Klerk (for Rudy Paige), Elton Jantjes (Lambie) and, at long last, Rohan Janse van Rensburg (De Allende).
In place of Habana, there is a debut for Jamba Ulengo, and on the flank Uzair Cassiem is another who gets a deserved chance.
Sharks loose forward Jean-Luc du Preez's selection on the bench sets him up for a debut.
“We have a less experienced team, but I want to see some energy and an improved performance. Our selection is also keeping in mind the necessity to build towards 2019,” said Coetzee with an (optimistic) eye on the future.
“Uzair was impressive during our domestic competitions and has continued to work hard on this tour since re-joining us.
“Jamba, Uzair and Rohan are examples of players who have forced their way into the squad through consistently performing well on the domestic scene, and now they are getting their opportunities to play for the Boks.”