The past two seasons have seen the Lions emerge as the success story of South African rugby.
In a dreadful 2016 season which saw arguably the worst year in Springbok history, the Lions proved a shining light when they made the Super Rugby final.
They have continued their impressive run in 2017 and look a good bet to at least replicate last year’s heroics.
As such, there had been calls for Bok coach Allister Coetzee to “load his team with Lions” for the upcoming three-Test series against France.
Coetzee obliged, picking 10 Lions in his squad (Lionel Mapoe was later added) for what surely must be a “last-chance-saloon” series for the embattled Bok mentor.
Warren Whiteley has been rewarded with the captaincy, while heaps of praise have been bestowed upon many of his team-mates.
Elton Jantjies is back on top form and looks set to start at pivot against the French, while his halfback partner at the Lions, Ross Cronje, looks likely to make his Test debut after a stellar Super Rugby season which saw him take the spot of Faf de Klerk - who was heroic at times in 2016.
Players like Mapoe, Jaco Kriel, Malcolm Marx, Franco Mostert and Courtnall Skosan have caught the eye of many a rugby writer in recent times, but another Lion who has perhaps gone a bit unnoticed in the public eye is fullback Andries Coetzee.
Luckily for Coetzee, his performances caught the eye of the national selectors and the Lions’ “unsung hero” should make his international debut at Loftus Versfeld next Saturday.
In my view, Coetzee has been a key cog in the Lions’ armoury over the past few seasons and his national call-up was just reward.
He displays key attributes of what is required from a top-level fullback.
Apart from possessing a prodigious boot and being sound under the high ball, his counter-attacking from the back has been a real standout.
Coetzee, who is known to his team-mates as “Boeboes”, is an unpredictable player and creates the impression that he has lots of time on the ball - often a hallmark of a good player.
Statistics derived from SANZAAR’s official website also highlight Coetzee’s attacking prowess in Super Rugby this year.
He is fifth on the list for most defenders beaten (42), cracks the top 10 in the ball carries category (132 carries) and has gained the third most metres on attack with 956m, trailing only the Crusaders’ David Havili (1 074m) and the Chiefs’ Damian McKenzie (1 115m).
Coetzee was the only specialist fullback picked in the Bok squad and unless his namesake surprises by opting for a Jesse Kriel or a Dillyn Leyds, the Lions No 15 should get an extended run against the French.
He can bring stability at the back - something that was lacking during last year’s tumultuous Springbok campaign which saw all of Kiel, Willie le Roux, Pat Lambie and Johan Goosen tried at fullback.
With Goosen retired, Le Roux seemingly in the international wilderness after an error-prone 2016 and Lambie’s injury concerns, Coetzee will see the France series as the perfect opportunity to make the Springbok No 15 jersey his own...
Given the options available in the squad, I picked my Springbok starting XV for the first Test against France:
15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Note: With Duane Vermeulen only arriving four days before the first Test, I would not include him in the starting team.
Herman Mostert works at Sport24, is a struggling golfer and enjoys tennis...
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