This tour is make or break for Allister Coetzee. The Boks only have 24 Tests left before the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and Coetzee needs to answer big questions on this European tour. All the good of 2017 will be undone if he returns with results that look anything like last year’s winless effort.
There are already a few headscratching developments, such as Jan Serfontein’s Montpellier sabbatical and Duane Vermeulen not being picked to address the lack of depth at eighthman, despite declaring himself fit and available. Why weren’t Frans Steyn and JP Pietersen included to add some experience to a very undercooked and inexperienced backline? And why isn’t Coetzee tapping into Rassie Erasmus’ rugby brain given that he’s just spent the past 18 months at Munster.
Without digressing any further, let’s look at South Africa’s tour opponents and what we can expect come matchday:
Coetzee has billed the Irish as ‘the All Blacks of Europe’. That praise might be a tad too far, but you can’t deny Ireland are a good rugby team. Sean O’Brien, CJ Stander, Jonny Sexton, Tadgh Furlong and Connor Murray all featured for the British & Irish Lions and would easily make it into the current Springbok set-up as starters.
In our last six visits to Ireland, we’ve only won twice, including the most recent drubbing – a 29-15 loss at the Aviva in the 2014 tour-opener.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Boks change tactics to match their opponents, as they did in the Rugby Championship. Either way, South Africa must brace to deal with Ireland’s bruising ball-carriers.
CJ Stander, Jamie Heaslip (injured) and Sean O’Brien were all amongst the top five runners during the Six Nations this year, with Stander making a mammoth 103 carries while O’Brien made 67 carries. While neither averaged more than three metres-per-carry, those runs allowed Sexton to pull the strings with his dangerous outside backs.
Bruising carries through the middle will suck up defenders for strike runners like Keith Earls and Rob Kearney out wide, both in the top five for defenders-beaten during the Six Nations.
This will be South Africa’s toughest match on tour, but it’s how the Springboks respond to this result, be it positive or negative, that will probably define their European conquest.
A French team, probably fresh off an All Blacks drubbing, awaits the Boks in Paris. And with all due respect to the quality on show in the Top 14, Les Bleus are a mess.
Okay, they scared England at Twickenham this year, beat a very good Scottish team and blitzed Italy. But the Irish beat them easily, and a below-par Welsh side nearly beat them in France before they went on a horrific tour to South Africa in June, losing all three Tests to a Bok side coming off the worst season in team history.
Their goal-kicking sharpshooter, Camille Lopez, with an 89% success-rate during the Six Nations, is also out with a broken ankle, while their most dangerous outside back, Virimi Vakatawa is serving a suspension.
The Boks should bully them up front, and blitz them out wide.
No two ways about it. Italy’s been horrible all year and if the Boks lose again, we should all just pack it up and get ready for the cricket.
They lost every single match in the Six Nations, by massive margins, and coach Conor O’Shea has picked five uncapped players in his squad for the November Tests. Italy’s 31-man squad boasts an average of 17 Tests per player.
Yes, they almost scared the almighty Eddie Jones’ England, leading 10-5 at halftime in the Twickenham encounter, but England still managed to win 36-15. And that match was infamous for a tactic where offside lines didn’t exist, thanks to a Brendan Venter inspired tactic of not forming rucks.
Luckily for us, Venter is somehow contracted to both the Boks and Italy, which means he won’t be involved in plotting South Africa’s demise, as he did in 2016.
Anything other than a big win is non-negotiable.
Once again we’ve saddled ourselves with a game outside of World Rugby’s international window to raise funds.
We’ll also be minus Elton Jantjies and Franco Mostert for this game. That’s the first-choice flyhalf and one of the hardest workers on any rugby field in the world, not playing.
Fortunately, Wales have some turmoil of their own to deal with. They only won two Six Nations games this year, Warren Gatland has just returned after his sabbatical as British & Irish Lions coach, and star players such as Sam Warburton, Gareth Anscombe and George North miss out through injury.
Justin Tipuric, Dan Lydiate and Rhys Webb, are also struggling with injuries, and there is an ongoing issue regarding Wales’ new 60-cap rule for overseas players, which will see stalwarts, such as Webb, ruled out in the future.
Gatland, who is under pressure from the media to play a more expansive game and ditch the Warrenball tactics, has also dropped stars like Luke Charteris, Scott Williams, Jamie Roberts and Sam Davies. That’s more than 200 Tests of experience gone.
On paper, we should beat the Welsh and that means the South African rugby public won’t be satisfied with anything less than three out of four victories from this tour.
Follow Dawie on Twitter @Dawiboon
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