Be comforted, there’s enough quality in Allister Coetzee’s Springboks squad to beat France 3-0 in the June Test series.
There’s also a greater concentration of established provincial and Super Rugby combinations to ease the strains that usually accompany any first Test match of the year.
South Africa will be in a better position than France with preparations for the first Test because those French players in the Top 14 final will only be available for the last two Test matches.
France should be the confidence builder Coetzee so desperately needs before being asked the defining questions of 2017 in the Rugby Championship.
The Springbok squad will be improved on for the Rugby Championship. Players currently injured will be available and the squad could show a 30 percent change when the Springboks travel to New Zealand and host the All Blacks in Cape Town.
Coetzee has resisted the experience of several overseas-based Springboks and rewarded Super Rugby form and the core of the squad is South African-based.
Playing at home will nullify the lack of experience but the squad is likely to be boosted with a few more veterans for the All Blacks.
Coetzee, by his own admission, has invested in the successful formula of the Lions and this year wants to adopt the playing style of the Lions for the Springboks.
This represents a mindset change because a year ago Coetzee had no interest in the Lions and in the first Test against Ireland picked only two Lions players in the starting XV in centre Lionel Mapoe and scrumhalf Faf de Klerk.
Coetzee has learned his lesson because the Boks in that Test played like a bunch of individuals and lost to an Irish team reduced to 14 players for the last hour of the match.
The choice of Lions captain Warren Whiteley to lead the Springboks is a wise one, given Duane Vermeulen only arrives back in South Africa a week before the Test series starts and Jaco Kriel has been struggling with injury in the last month.
Handre Pollard and Pat Lambie, two others who Coetzee rates in his Springbok leadership group, are also injured.
Coetzee’s 2017 initial squad of 31 shows 15 changes to the first Bok squad of 31 he chose in 2016.
There is a very different look to his playing options in 2017 than what toured at the end of 2016. The combination of form loss and injury have influenced some choices and in other cases there has been an acknowledgement that many of those 2016 national selections are currently not good enough for Test rugby.
Only five of the starting XV that lost to Wales in Cardiff are included in the 2017 squad of 31, with a further three from the match squad of 23 also retained.
There is also an overall of the Springbok match 23 humiliated 57-15 by the All Blacks in Durban, with only eight survivors.
Coetzee, in 2016, picked nine uncapped players and his first squad of 2017 rewards eight uncapped players.
The Bok coach encouragingly has left the door open for 19 year-old Sharks flyhalf Curwin Bosch to potentially be involved in the third Test against France. Bosch is currently with the Junior Boks.
Coetzee also spoke with more clarity about his selections than was the case a year ago. He publicly endorsed the selection of Malcolm Marx ahead of overseas-based veteran Bismarck du Plessis, which has to inspire the locally based Marx.
Whether one agrees with Coetzee’s call or not on Du Plessis, it is refreshing that he has shown the confidence to qualify the selection of Marx on the basis that it is his view the Lions hooker is the best option.
A coach’s reputation and career is determined by his selections and - by consequence - results.
Coetzee has made an early call on wanting a team culture that is built around Super Rugby players. It is now for those players to respond because if they don’t it could be a case of both the player and coach not being around in 2018.
The next two weeks are always the kindest to a Springbok coach because there is renewed optimism and there is always belief that the untested will turn the green of inexperience into the gold of a winner.
Whiteley, for now, is being feted because of his achievements in leading the Lions. Within a few months he will be assessed on what he has done at the Springboks. For now it is smiles all around.
It’s a new season and a clean slate, and Coetzee and his squad deserve to be judged on what happens from France onwards.
Frans Steyn’s recall is long overdue an I only hope he will be given the responsibility and treated like a senior statesman within the squad.
Jake White has proven consistently that Steyn responds best to responsibility and knowing the coach has absolute trust in his ability.
The same applies to Elton Jantjies at flyhalf. Lions coach Johan Ackermann urged Coetzee to pick Jantjies and to trust him to be the general.
Lukhanyo Am’s selection has promise and it will be interesting to see if it is Steyn or Damian De Allende who starts at No 12.
There are plenty of very talented individuals in the squad but it’s combinations that define Test teams and it’s combinations that have inspired a view among many successful coaches that the 15 best players are not necessarily the best XV.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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