Johannesburg - South Africa face four "hellish
challenges" on a tour of Europe that will decide whether this season is a
success or failure, say coach Allister Coetzee and skipper Eben Etzebeth.
The twice world champions Springboks tackle Ireland in
Dublin this Saturday, followed by France in Paris, Italy in Padova and Wales in
Cardiff on consecutive weekends.
Ireland have won four of the last six home Tests against
South Africa, France four of the last five, Italy the last, and Wales the last
two, leaving the tourists extremely wary.
Last year, South Africa fell to England, Italy and Wales to
finish 2016 with a calendar-year record eight defeats, triggering media and
public calls for Coetzee to be axed.
The 54-year-old former coach of Cape Town-based Super Rugby
outfit Stormers survived a disastrous first year in charge to achieve
better results this year.
South Africa arrived in Europe at the weekend after five
wins, two draws and two losses, but many still question whether Coetzee is the
right man for the job.
He will probably need at least three victories on tour to
silence his critics, and dare not fail for a second successive time against
European minnows Italy.
Lock Etzebeth, passed fit after injuring an ankle in
training two weeks ago, said "the success or failure of our season hinges
on what happens in Europe. We are looking at four wins.
"When the Springboks played in Europe last year we had
not been together for long. Now we have been together for almost two years and
are very prepared.
"We need to start winning away as a group," he
said, referring to only one victory on the road in nine attempts since Coetzee
succeeded Heyneke Meyer.
Coetzee admitted that the Tests would be "hellish
challenges as we have not performed well in Ireland, France and Wales of late
and everyone knows what Italy did to us last year.
"Playing in Europe means different weather, different
styles of play and different interpretations of the breakdown laws by referees.
"Our opponents are likely to be very good at tactical
kicking and challenging for the ball in the air.
"We need to start winning close matches, too, having
failed to do so three times this year against New Zealand and Australia."
South Africa recovered from a 57-0 mauling by world
champions New Zealand in Auckland to lose 25-24 in a Cape Town Test they could
The same applied to two draws against Australia - 23-23 in
Perth and 27-27 in Bloemfontein - with the Springboks finishing both on the
Earlier, South Africa achieved a 3-0 whitewash of tired,
weakened France and triumphed home and away against Argentina, who have slipped
since coming fourth at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
The general view of the South African media ahead of the
European tour is that the pack should hold its own, but the backline lacks the
x-factor that could decide a tight tussle.
Tighthead prop Wilco Louw was the find of the domestic
season and the only concern is the lack of a specialist and experienced number
eight with skipper Warren Whiteley injured.
Jan Serfontein was omitted as he wanted to settle at new
team Montpellier so Test-rusty Damian de Allende is the lone recognised inside
centre among 15 backs.
There have also been media hints of a change at flyhalf with
fit-again Handre Pollard possibly replacing talented but erratic Elton