Cape Town – There is more than merely a pleasing sense of consistency to Allister Coetzee’s Springbok starting XV selection for the Castle Rugby Championship Test against Argentina in Salta on Saturday (21:40 SA time).
Almost as importantly as the fact that the head coach revealed only one alteration – and an injury-enforced one, at scrumhalf – on Thursday to his team for the clash at Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena, the men to do battle for the visitors will carry relatively few mental scars from last year’s failed encounter at the same venue.
Then, South Africa were beaten for the first time on Argentinean soil and just second occasion by those foes in total, as their Championship aspirations suffered an ominous blow – things would only get worse in many respects, too – through a 26-24 setback.
The Boks were ultimately undone by substitute Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias’s 78th-minute penalty, but the result was nevertheless an appropriate one as the two-time World Cup champions had been lamentably bad at times.
Fortunately, and in a sign of the meaningful manner in which the Boks have reinvented themselves both in personnel and strategic terms since then, relatively few of the start-out troops who do duty this weekend in a novel, much-discussed red jersey – perhaps no bad thing from an omen point of view – carry memories of involvement in that landmark loss.
In the backline, only flyhalf Elton Jantjies also began last year’s fixture, whilst in the engine room Tendai Mtawarira and now-captain Eben Etzebeth are the lone “repeat” players.
Admittedly several of last year’s substitutes at the venue feature again in 2017 – in the cases of Jaco and Jesse Kriel, this time as starters – but the Boks did stiffen their act a fair bit after half-time in the 2016 meeting, a feather in the cap for impact contributors like Steven Kitshoff and Pieter-Steph du Toit.
Loosehead prop Kitshoff, especially, who is still waiting for a maiden Bok start a year later, injected a lot more gusto to the Bok mix in Salta last year both at scrum-time and in open play; so much so that Sport24 gave him top billing on our player ratings chart despite his mere 35 minutes of action.
Bongi Mbonambi is once again the reserve in the hooker berth: he did not get on the battlefield in the 2016 disaster, primarily as Adriaan Strauss was the simultaneous first choice in the slot and skipper at the time, so he probably has a better chance of a late infusion this time around if Malcolm Marx happens to be tiring, or labouring for best form.
Whilst the starting brew Coetzee currently shows widespread faith in does still open itself to scrutiny in one or two positions – and needs may become slightly different when the Boks run into Australia and New Zealand soon – he is to be commended for the settled hallmark of his plans right now, a breath of fresh air from the turbulence witnessed last year.
For the record, this was the Bok starting line-up at Salta in 2016, indicating how dramatically things have changed:
15 Johan Goosen, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Adriaan Strauss (capt), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
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