Cape Town – There are, arguably, more similarities than
there are differences when you examine the respective lead-up days in early
winter of Heyneke Meyer (2012) and Allister Coetzee (2016) to their first Test
matches in charge of the Springboks.
Now that we finally know new coach Coetzee’s maiden squad of
23 to tackle Ireland in the first of three encounters at Newlands on Saturday
(17:00), there is confirmation that in personnel terms, the mix is vastly
different four years on.
There are just three start-out survivors from the XV which
saw off England 22-17 under Meyer’s watch at Kings Park on June 9 2012 – JP
Pietersen is still the right wing, Eben Etzebeth the No 4 lock (he was on debut
as a 20-year-old then) and Tendai Mtawarira occupant of the loosehead prop
But there are promotions now off the Durban 2012 bench for
Adriaan Strauss -- to both first-choice hooker and captain, as veteran hard man
Bismarck du Plessis has been overlooked -- and Pat Lambie to flyhalf, with
Morne Steyn out of the way in 2016.
Otherwise, however, it is all change as Coetzee, just like
Meyer four years previously after succeeding colourful Peter de Villiers, nervously
contemplates (though he may well cut a calmer figure on match days) his planned
new dawn for the Bok cause.
Yet in terms of the backdrops to each coach’s “game one”,
there is much common ground.
Both men were taking the reins in the wake of World Cup
campaigns that had left Bok fans, many still dining out on the glories of 1995
and 2007, with mixed feelings at best.
In 2011, “Div’s” charges had bombed out in the quarter-final
stage, albeit after a highly controversial tussle with Australia (lost 11-9) in
which referee Bryce Lawrence incurred repeated South African wrath and many
neutrals climbed on a critical bandwagon over his policing too.
Meyer’s RWC 2015 Boks went a wee bit further … losing to
eventual champions New Zealand in a tight semi-final and earning a “podium”
place by beating Argentina in the stale-coffee playoff game for bronze status,
although by then his occasionally sparkly style of play had increasingly
retreated into the terrain of dour, excessive caution.
At the start of their tenures, both Meyer and Coetzee generally
stated their desires to play an up-tempo brand of rugby, while respecting Bok
traditions for fielding big, physical packs intending to dominate set-pieces
and collisions – perhaps a reasonably obvious, easy-to-say goal?
They also made their first picks in climates marked by the
fading into the dusk, even though four years apart, of several ageing
stalwarts: Meyer’s maiden XV was deprived of the likes of outgoing skipper John
Smit and Danie Rossouw, whilst all of Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez and Jaque
Fourie were on early retirements/sabbaticals although that trio would feature
again later to varying degrees or availabilities.
Similarly now, Coetzee is minus the great Matfield and Du
Preez (both completely done with their playing careers), unable to deploy other
seasoned stars such as Bryan Habana and Schalk Burger at present, and
preferring to overlook certain overseas-based individuals who are getting long
in the tooth.
Meyer’s side for the Durban date against the English had a
slightly more “raw” look than Coetzee’s does for the Irish, as his XV featured
as many as three new caps in Etzebeth, lock partner Juandre Kruger and the
currently-injured Marcell Coetzee; Coetzee’s has just one complete first-timer
in scrumhalf Faf de Klerk.
By and large, Coetzee may have side-stepped any derision
better than Meyer did when he named his first combo … primarily because his
predecessor chose to field Zane Kirchner, widely considered by public and
pundits alike to be formulaic rather than oozing in enterprise, as his fullback
Having that place-kicking machine, Steyn, at No 10 also
didn’t send out too many immediate signals that Meyer was going to broadly
favour dazzle over “domkrag”.
All that said, RWC ’95-winning lock and SuperSport
commentator Kobus Wiese has been particularly peeved on Twitter, it seems, by
the absence from Coetzee’s 23 for Saturday of in-form Lions 2016 dynamos Ruan
Combrinck and Jaco Kriel.
What about the respective, first opponents for Meyer and
Again there are similarities: both England (2012) and
current guests Ireland are here for three Tests, and with demanding locals inevitably
baying for 3-0 outcomes in Bok favour.
They didn’t quite get their wish four years ago, as England
earned a 14-14 draw in the last encounter at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium after
being beaten just about soundly enough in Durban and Johannesburg.
Neither squad arrived as defending Six Nations champions:
England had been the 2012 runners-up, whilst the Irish were third in the
time-honoured tournament earlier this year.
The current Irish side is more affected by injury-related
absenteeism, and the present Bok coach has also been advantaged over Meyer by
the fact that he had a longer lead-up to his first Test – a fortnight rather
than miserly single week.
When Meyer prepped his men for the Kings Park game, many had
come straight off Super Rugby derbies only the previous Saturday featuring the
Bulls against Stormers at Loftus and Lions against Sharks in the Big Smoke.
So maybe the scene is set for Coetzee to quickly go one
better than Meyer, actually earning that desired clean sweep in his first
*Coetzee’s first Bok
XV v Ireland, Cape Town 2016:
15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12
Damian de Allende, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane
Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3
Frans Malherbe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (capt), 1 Tendai Mtawarira. (Subs: Bongi
Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane, Julian Redelinghuys, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Warren
Whiteley, Rudy Paige, Elton Jantjies, Jesse Kriel.)
*Meyer’s first Bok XV
v England, Durban 2012:
15 Zane Kirchner, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jean de Villiers
(capt), 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8
Pierre Spies, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Eben
Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
(Subs: Adriaan Strauss, Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe, Keegan Daniel,
Ruan Pienaar, Pat Lambie, Wynand Olivier.)
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writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing