DURBAN - The 2017 Springboks will find out if they are the real deal or imposters when they play the All Blacks in Albany on Saturday, according to coach Allister Coetzee.
While the Springboks are unbeaten this year and drew with the Wallabies in Perth last week, Coetzee said at his team announcement on Thursday that the challenge against the World Cup holders was on another scale altogether.
“Coaching against the All Blacks in New Zealand is massively challenging because the odds are not with you, but that is what you have to get the players to buy into - the challenge of winning when you are written off,” Coetzee said after making three changes to his team that played last week, two of them injury-enforced.
Jean-Luc du Preez comes in at flank in place of crocked Jaco Kriel and there is a well-deserved start for Lions strongman Ruan Dreyer for injured Coenie Oosthuizen, at tighthead prop.
In an expected rotational change, Pieter-Steph du Toit makes way for rested Franco Mostert, despite the former having arguably his best game of the season against the Wallabies last week.
“The players are gearing up for a massive challenge,” Coetzee said. “You don’t have to say a word to them about what to expect against the All Blacks at home. It comes with the territory but we feel a lot more comfortable than we did when we played them last year, when a lot of things were not in place and self-belief was lacking.
“This year we had much better preparation time before the French series, which helped tremendously, as opposed to last year when it was a bit of a rush job and the players have fed off the security of good preparation and I think everybody can see that the guys are enjoying the game now.”
Critically, Coetzee said that his players had made progress in closing the gap on the All Blacks in terms of conditioning, which has long been a lament of former Springbok coaches when they have gone up against the All Blacks, who have a knack of winning games in the final quarter because they are fitter.
“The Bok players have not been at a better conditioning level for a long while and you can see the result of that is that we have had minimal injuries,” Coetzee said.
“We did a lot of work with the Super Rugby coaches, we have been building with the team in the Test matches and we are all excited about now seeing whether we are indeed on an upward trajectory.
“This match will give us a reality check of where we really are, with respect to other teams we have played this year.”
Coetzee said that the players were primed to concentrate for more than the 80-minutes.
“You cannot switch off for a second against the All Blacks, not until you are in the change room. We have seen how Argentina conceded points last week in that crucial period of the five minutes before half-time and the five minutes after, not to mention that obvious final quarter when they put the foot on the accelerator.”
Coetzee that the game has changed completely in the last five years or so in the progression of the contribution of the bench, and he feels the Boks have been good in this area this year.
“More than ever it has become a 23-man effort,” the coach said. “Games can be won and lost in the final quarter when the impact players are on. Numbers 16 to 23 have to be as good as the starting 15 and just as prepared. Everyone of our squad is as well prepared as possible and we are hungry for a heck of a Test match.”