Johannesburg - South Africa coach Allister Coetzee is
banking on a lot of Lion-hearted stars as he plots the first step toward
redemption after a catastrophic maiden season in charge.
The Springboks face France Saturday at Loftus Versfeld
stadium in Pretoria in the first of three Tests with a line-up that
acknowledges the prowess of the Golden Lions.
Lions were Super Rugby runners-up last year and, as the only
genuine non-New Zealand title contenders, are on course to make the final again
Coetzee shunned by far the best provincial team in South
Africa last year, choosing just two Lions for the first international of the
season, a first home loss to Ireland.
It proved to be the first defeat of eight - an unwanted calendar-year
record for the Springboks that triggered sustained public and media calls for
Coetzee to be fired.
The coach escaped the axe partly because his four-year
contract did not have a performance clause covering the first season. It does
for the second season.
While Coetzee insists he is going nowhere, a 3-0 series loss
to France would probably leave South African officials with no option but to
For France, the coach has had a change of heart from last
season with skipper and No 8 Warren Whiteley, the successor to retired Adriaan
Strauss, one of seven Lions in the run-on team.
Three of the four new caps, fullback Andries Coetzee, wing Courtnall
Skosan and scrumhalf Ross Cronje, are Lions.
So are flyhalf Elton Jantjies, hooker Malcolm Marx and
Franco Mostert, a surprise choice at lock ahead of 2016 regular Pieter-Steph du
While most South African Super Rubby sides have struggled to
transform from a kick-and-chase to ball-in-hand style, the Lions have been
running the ball for years.
But a Lions-stacked Springboks side does not mean the team
will attempt to imitate the Johannesburg outfit.
Springbok and Lions flank Jaco Kriel, part of the squad for
the France series, stresses that the style of his provincial team took years to
"It is not a cut-and-paste style that can be passed
from one team to another," he stressed.
"Our playing pattern works for us because we have been
developing it for nearly five years. It took a lot of time and effort."
South African supporters, furious at the national team
losing seven of the last eight Tests in 2016, will care less about what style
is deployed than getting back on the winning trail.
Despite the loss for the series of France-based loose
forward Duane Vermeulen, injured in the French Top 14 final last Sunday,
Coetzee waxed lyrical about his back row.
"I am excited about our loose trio combination,"
he told reporters after naming his starting line-up.
"Siya Kolisi has played at openside for the Springboks
and the Western Stormers and I know he will be able to do the job for us.
"Oupa Mohoje has good ball-carrying abilities, he is an
excellent lineout option, and I think the combination will complement each
"On the bench, we have a young and exciting player in
Jean-Luc du Preez, whom I am sure will make a big impact."
Coetzee rates France, who finished third in the Six Nations
Championship, the "most improved Test team in the world".
The last French international was a 20-18 victory over Wales
and only five of the team that started in Paris run on in Pretoria.
Skipper and lock Yoann Maestri, full-back Brice Dulin, centre
Gael Fickou, winger Virimi Vakatawa and loose forward Louis Picamoles are the
Those not playing include flyhalf Camille Lopez, leading
scorer in the Six Nations Championship with 67 points. Regular scrumhalf
Baptiste Serin is on the bench in Pretoria.
Their places go to flyhalf Jules Plisson and scrumhalf
Maxime Machenaud with coach Guy Noves saying he wants to give as many of his
squad as possible game time.