JOHANNESBURG - Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has highlighted several challenges facing his team over the next month in Europe, but believes his settled squad will be able to overcome the threats posed by Ireland, France, Italy and Wales.
The 34-man Bok squad leave South Africa in two groups to Europe on Friday and Saturday, with the first Test coming against Ireland in Dublin next Saturday.
It is a tour Coetzee will desperately want to do well in after the travails of a year ago, when the Boks failed to win in four outings.
“The end-of-year tour is always different, with its own challenges... one of those being trying to successfully follow up our performance at Newlands,” said Coetzee.
Last time out the Boks lost by a single point to the All Blacks in Cape Town, in a far better performance than their 57-0 hiding suffered at the hands of the same team in Albany a few weeks earlier.
“Of course, we’re also up against northern-hemisphere referees and their interpretation of the breakdowns especially is somewhat different,” said the Bok coach. “We’ve adapted well to their officiating though.
“Ireland first up will be a big test; scrumhalf Connor Murray is a world-class player whose box kicking is pin-point accurate, and that’s a big part of their game. They also compete well in the air, so it’s going to be an aerial game over there.”
Coetzee added that the weather conditions would also challenge his players, something the Boks would have to quickly adapt to, but the coach said the team’s planning and preparation was far better than it was a year ago when they got walloped by among others Italy.
But consistency in selection would also benefit the Boks abroad, said the coach.
“I’m really happy with the continuity in the group. Bar Lukhanyo Am, who was part of the planning for June already but missed out because of a cheekbone injury, everyone else has been part of our training camps,” said Coetzee.
“They all understand the team culture, the philosophy, and know the environment, so in that regard the continuity is a big plus for us. It’s the first time we’ve been able to have so much continuity, and it’s excellent for us when compared to last year when several new players came into the squad.”
Added to this, several Bok players were involved in a four-day condition and planning camp in Cape Town last week; their first bit of rugby action since the All Blacks Test last month. “I think the players are rejuvenated after last week’s camp. They’re fresh going on tour and trained with a lot of enthusiasm... and that’s a good sign.”
The Boks should have greater clarity on Thursday about the ankle injury suffered by team captain Eben Etzebeth at that camp. The second-row forward had been required to wear a moon boot to help stabilise the ankle and is expected to return to training on Thursday.
Besides Etzebeth, the Boks have four other locks in their squad, namely Lood de Jager, Franco Mostert, Pieter-Steph du Toit and now also Ruan Botha, who came into the squad on Tuesday as a replacement for injured flank Jean-Luc du Preez.