JOHANNESBURG - Four personnel changes in the starting team and 10 changes overall, including positional. Will this be enough to turn the Springboks into winners against France in Paris this weekend? I have my doubts.
Allister Coetzee has done the predictable thing by changing his flyhalf and inside centre because Elton Jantjies didn’t come up scratch when asked to play a kicking game in Dublin last week, while it was seemingly only the coach who actually thought Damian de Allende was in prime condition for Test rugby. How he was found out.
Really, when last did the Western Province and Stormers man even play a full 80 minutes and make a significant impact - be it at provincial or Test level?
De Allende should never have started last weekend, and how he can be on the bench this weekend also boggles the mind, but more on that later.
The other two changes in the starting team - the one that lost 38-3 to Ireland - were forced by injury - Wilco Louw coming in for Coenie Oosthuizen (even though the former virtually played the entire game last weekend) and Duane Vermeulen coming in for the concussed Pieter-Steph du Toit, even though he has officially replaced Oosthuizen in the squad.
The new-look back-row of Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi and Francois Louw looks formidable and balanced - something Coetzee’s loose-trio has hardly ever looked since he took charge of the team last June.
Now it’s a plus-point and perhaps, hopefully, one to be reckoned with. Vermeulen being called up is big bonus for the Boks and well done to Coetzee for starting him immediately. He’ll bring a lot to the team.
Predictably Coetzee hasn’t tinkered with the rest of the pack, but one’s got to wonder when Steven Kitshoff will get a start on tour and whether it wouldn’t have been a wise idea to go with the industrious Franco Mostert instead of Lood de Jager this week.
But the biggest questions again centre around the backs.
Handre Pollard coming in is understandable as he’s been knocking on the door for a while (but why Coetzee didn’t start him last week when he’d spoken so much about him training with the Boks in the build-up to the Ireland Test only the coach will know) and Jantjies looked some way off it in Dublin.
Rudy Paige or Louis Schreuder getting a run would’ve also shaken things up at scrumhalf where Ross Cronje also appears in need of game-time and sharpness.
We can only hope Francois Venter adapts quickly to the No 12 jersey because the reality is he has played the majority of his rugby in the last few years at 13, but Coetzee picking only one specialist inside centre (in the out-of-form De Allende) for the tour could hurt him badly and again raise questions about his ability to select properly. Also, why Jesse Kriel has survived only the coach will know ... why not give Lukhanyo Am an opportunity at 13, and if you must pick Kriel, shift him to the wing.
On that note, Coetzee has failed in not bringing in Warrick Gelant on the wing, or even on the bench, to give the Boks some X-factor. Courtnall Skosan and Dillyn Leyds have plenty to do to justify Coetzee sticking with them, while De Allende on the bench leaves one wondering what Gelant and even a Curwin Bosch - two of the best attacking players in the country - must do to get a chance. How the Boks could do with something a little different, something a little more exciting and dynamic.
South Africa will hope Vermeulen and Pollard especially - two players who’ve been handed massive roles in two key positions - are able to provide the spark that will help fire up this battling Bok team. But it will require a big effort from all 23 men, and much will depend on what kind of game Coetzee decides to play. Surely it won’t be an up-and-under approach again?
Meanwhile, France coach Guy Noves has picked the same starting XV who did duty in last weekend’s 38-18 defeat by the All Blacks for Saturday’s Boks Test. The one change on the bench sees uncapped prop Sebastien Taofifenua come in for Raphael Chaume.
Saturday’s Test kicks off at 10pm.