Coetzee, Meyer: First Bok sides compared

2016-06-10 13:17
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)

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 berth.

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 then.

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 Coetzee?

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 series …

*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.)

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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