Rugby Championship

NZ: Most Boks start without ‘spooks’

2017-09-12 12:51
Allister Coetzee (Gallo)

Cape Town – In cricket they call it mental scarring, and it is probably safe to suggest it is not an awful lot different in rugby.

It is a damaging psychological condition, based on historical “difficulties” against a particular team or individual, which might well have been set to afflict the Springboks as they open annual hostilities against old rivals the All Blacks at Albany on Saturday (09:35 SA time).

Last year, after all, was the most painfully one-sided ever, statistically, in the time-honoured bilateral conflict between South Africa and New Zealand.

Over the course of the two Rugby Championship encounters during the veritable annus horribilis for the Boks of 2016, the world champions demolished our national side, then under the leadership of Adriaan Strauss, by 41-13 in Christchurch and then rubbed salt even deeper into the sore by prevailing by a bilateral record 57-15 in Durban.

It rained tries to the imperious All Blacks over the course of those two clashes, as they dotted an embarrassing 15 (six at AMI Stadium, nine at Kings Park) against hapless foes, who found a miserly, solitary answer through veteran Bryan Habana in the away fixture - all of the Durban points for the Boks came through penalties by Morne Steyn.

Mental edge for the first of another two encounters in 2017? It doesn’t take a maths genius to work out that Steve Hansen’s charges command that mantle.

Nevertheless, it is also a reflection of the meaningful, pro-active way in which his counterpart Allister Coetzee has addressed Bok shortcomings from last year that the majority of his likely starting XV for this weekend won’t step out at QBE Stadium haunted by memories - at least from a participation point of view - of last season’s lamentable NZ tussles.

As well as for injury-related and other reasons, there has been a significant “clean-out” in personnel from those unpleasant 2016 experiences, to the extent that only a handful of Bok players involved as starters in last season’s games will probably repeat on Saturday.

Into that category, when compared with the side that ran out in the equivalent away match in Christchurch, should fall outside centre Jesse Kriel, flyhalf Elton Jantjies, lock and now acting captain Eben Etzebeth and stalwart loosehead prop Tendai Mtawarira.

The fifth may well be Pieter-Steph du Toit, unless the in-form second-rower loses his berth to Franco Mostert, who was rested for the 23-23 Perth draw with the Wallabies.

But otherwise the Bok side will have a comfortingly fresh look about it.

This ought to be best reflected in the backline, where change has been quite earth-shuddering by the Boks: the seven who started the last encounter between these teams in Durban will probably “disappear” en masse for this weekend.

Faf de Klerk and Steyn were the halfback combination at Kings Park, Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh the centres, and the back three was made up of Habana, Francois Hougaard and Pat Lambie.

De Allende and Hougaard are likely to be curtailed to substitute duty, at best, on Saturday; the others are right out of the picture.

The Springboks are also likely to field several men amidst their initial XV who will be facing the All Blacks’ famous haka for the first time: into that category, if selected, may well fall Andries Coetzee, Raymond Rhule, Courtnall Skosan, Ross Cronje, Uzair Cassiem, Jean-Luc du Preez and Ruan Dreyer, if the last-named player were to pip utility prop Trevor Nyakane to the tighthead berth vacated by injured Coenie Oosthuizen.

Even the 22-cap loose forward and vice-captain Siya Kolisi has only previously made two appearances off the bench against New Zealand, whilst roughly the same applies to Mostert and Malcolm Marx (one reserve contribution each).

All that might make the Boks look just a little callow for the herculean task ahead of them in Albany, where they will be attempting to knock over the heavy favourites on their own turf for the first time bilaterally since the 2009 Tri-Nations-winning South African outfit.

But to anyone harbouring unpalatable memories of the two 2016 tramplings in the Championship, it will seem more like a small mercy, as the Boks carry relatively little debris onto the park …

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