The Springboks’ three-Test series against France will be of utmost importance for coach Allister Coetzee.
In 2016, during Coetzee’s first season in charge, the Springboks won only four out of 12 Tests, giving him a paltry 33% win-record - the worst of any Bok coach in the professional era.
Coetzee insists 2017 will be different - and I hope for his sake he is right.
The Bok mentor has been his regular buoyant self in the build-up to the France series.
He is a great speaker, always confident and positive when addressing the media.
But unfortunately Coetzee’s talks did not match his team’s performances on the field last year.
And listening to some of his quotes leading up to Saturday’s season-opener, I can’t help but feel a little nervous for Springbok supporters.
Coetzee blamed last year’s struggles on a lack of preparation - he was only appointed Bok coach in April 2016.
“We didn’t have enough time to prepare last year. For every international coach, time is of essence - how much time you have to prepare before the first Test...” he said earlier in the week.
He claimed he had no December holiday as he was busy with his preparations for the season ahead.
The lack of preparation is a weak excuse.
After sneaking a series win over Ireland, the Boks in fact got progressively worse as the season wore on - so much so that they got pummelled 57-15 at home by the All Blacks and suffered the ultimate embarrassment of losing to Italy on their year-end tour.
There was clearly no progression after Coetzee had more time with the team!
After naming his side on Thursday, Coetzee said 2016’s results are forgotten and in the past.
But can they really be forgotten? You can’t just forget what happened, papering over obvious cracks...
These are statements that have me worried about the national team’s fortunes for the season ahead.
Nevertheless, some changes have been made in players and management personnel.
It was needed!
Brendan Venter (defence and exits specialist) and Franco Smith (skills and attack) have been brought on board as assistants, while the head coach has rewarded Super Rugby form by picking the majority of his team from the successful Lions - there are seven Lions players in the Bok starting team for Saturday.
Coetzee has made some efforts to shake things up and he needs to be lauded for that.
The jury is still out whether these changes will reap rewards and I can’t help but feel a tad nervy ahead of Saturday’s first Test.
What game style will the Boks employ? Because quite frankly, I still can’t fathom what style was adopted in 2016.
Will Coetzee be able to marry the differing coaching philosophies of Smith and Venter?
Smith is known for adopting a free-flowing, attacking brand of rugby, while Venter believes in a sound kicking game, a good defensive line, added with a strong line speed.
Can the balance between two styles be understood and executed by the players?
These are challenges facing the head coach.
Coetzee also picked a very inexperienced team for Saturday’s first Test - the total Test caps for the starting line-up is 265, with only 54 caps in the backline!
Two out of form Bulls players are guarding the midfield (I personally would have backed the vastly experienced Frans Steyn in midfield), while debutant Raymond Rhule on the wing has been the worst defender in Super Rugby this year.
Elton Jantjies deserves his spot at flyhalf, but he’s yet to convince at Test level - and especially while playing under Coetzee.
He's got several Lions team-mates around him and that familiarity should prove helpful.
The loose trio also looks unbalanced, with Oupa Mohoje a surprise selection in my view.
Mohoje is a strong lineout option, but not the strongest ball-carrier and defender and his selection does not compliment Warren Whiteley and Siya Kolisi alongside him.
Kolisi is not an out and out fetcher and I had a chuckle when Coetzee mentioned on Thursday that the Stormers captain "understands the role of turning the ball over".
I have my doubts about the Bok team, but will give them the benefit of the doubt against the French.
Jake White said earlier this week the French are no longer an unpredictable side.
That may be true in the type of game they play, but I’ll always hold the opinion that the French are a temperamental bunch - their attitude on the day will play an important role in how they execute.
For me, one thing though is certain: Coetzee needs to win this series in order to remain at the helm of the national team...
Herman Mostert works at Sport24, is a struggling golfer and enjoys tennis...
Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.