Cape Town – From nought to five, in about eight months.
That is the comforting representation thought for supporters
of the Lions, currently South Africa’s leading Super Rugby side and the most
watchable and progressive as well, as they chew on Allister Coetzee’s maiden
Springbok match-day 23 for the first Test against Ireland at Newlands on
The new national coach on Thursday named five Lions
customers in his plans for the clash, including a debut for dynamic little Faf
de Klerk at scrumhalf and first start – albeit second appearance – for the
outside centre with the trademark “chicken run” try-scoring celebration, Lionel
In with good chances of running on at some stage from the
bench in the second half (if not summoned due to any injuries before that) are
the franchise’s rangy No 8 and captain Warren Whiteley, tighthead strongman
Julian Redelinghuys and flyhalf Elton Jantjies.
The last-named player, of course, might have come a lot
closer to a starting berth had it not been for the lingering concern over his
rehabilitation from a finger injury, but with the experienced and cool Pat
Lambie available for the No 10 jersey, it seems to make sense for Jantjies to
be delicately “filtered” back instead.
No Bok coach will ever succeed in pleasing all of the people
all of the time, so there may be a few, more demanding Lions fans expressing
disappointment – or employing stronger lingo -- that in-form right wing Ruan
Combrinck didn’t earn a starting berth, or spot among the 23 at all.
Coetzee, clearly aware of the need to field at least a few
familiar positional combinations even as he works his new broom, has opted for
an all-Sharks back three featuring talisman Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen and
There is also no match-day role yet for tearaway open-sider
Jaco Kriel, although his very selection for the more extended Bok party of 31
suggests he is not that far from favour.
In a broader context, Emirates Airline Park diehards should take
solace from the fact that Lions involvement is hugely more apparent than it was
when the Boks last played a Test match, the successful bronze playoff against
Argentina in London at the end of RWC 2015.
On that occasion, coach of the time Heyneke Meyer had
precisely zero representation from that franchise in his squad -- despite the
Lions already having shown promising growth at Super Rugby level in the 2015
season, where they just missed the playoffs and came second in the then-single SA
So big strides have been made by Coetzee, really, in
restoring the perceived imbalance.
The former Stormers mastermind, in naming a side that many
had anticipated in the lead-up days anyway, has spread his net reasonably
evenly over the domestic Super Rugby outfits: of the three best-performing
teams right now, he has given the nod to six from the Capetonian side, five
from the Sharks and those aforementioned five from the Johannesburg team.
There are also four Bulls -- including the honour of the
captain in the shape of Adriaan Strauss -- one Cheetahs player in Lood de Jager
and the expected thumbs-up for two overseas-based players he is so well-acquainted
with, Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw.
Coetzee also went to some pains to emphasise that he has a
long-term “plan” for barrel-chested young loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff, so
although a cap remains elusive for the moment, he could feature very soon.
In short, this is arguably one of the least divisive Bok
selections in some time … and speaking of “divisive”, the 23 includes nine
players of colour in an uncompromising political climate.
That is four better than the tally for Meyer’s assault on
the Pumas at the Olympic Stadium on October 30, when the Boks duly won a
As with the Lions recognition issue, you could say things
are looking up.
Now this harmonious group of South Africans simply have to
deliver crisply between the Newlands lines on Saturday from 17:00 …
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