The Springboks get the post-Heynecke Meyer era underway with a three-match Test series against a deflated Irish outfit who struggled to make a real impact at this year’s Six Nations.
For the hosts, this series is about ushering in a new era and evolving the South African rugby brand, while for the visitors, it’s a case of trying to atone for their disappointing World Cup and Six Nations campaigns.
So will Coetzee and his new look squad get the South African rugby public back on board or will the Irish make this a tour to remember?
So what’s the hardest job in South Africa? Well, a few big name CEO’s might contest this one but I firmly believe that it is being at the helm of the Springbok ship. Yes, you do get to travel over land and sea on great voyages of conquest but unlike Vasco da Gama or Christopher Columbus, Coetzee has to deal with a relentless South African sports press and an expectant public.
Those two aforementioned groups also have vastly differing opinions on what the composition of Coetzee’s squad should look like. There’s a quote by English Monk John Lydgate that sums up the catch-22 situation that Coetzee finds himself in. The quote reads ‘You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”.
The new Springbok coach has managed to at least please the majority of the South African rugby public with his first bash at picking a Springbok squad but there are still a few moans and groans coming from segments of the public.
I personally love the look of this new squad. Fresh faces, players who can be trusted to implement a much more attacking brand of rugby, some cool experienced heads for when the going gets tough – and believe me, it will get tough against this Irish side despite their recent run of poor form.
Despite my general happiness with the make-up of the squad, I’m still a bit upset at not seeing Lions inside centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg given a shot. The 21-year-old has been extremely impressive this term. His hard running and eye for an angle show shades of Jaque Fourie while his defensive organisation and slick distribution skills remind me of Juan de Villiers. He’s still a youngster though, and there is plenty of time for him to make that number 12 Bok jumper his own.
Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Scarra Ntubeni, Jaco Kriel, Julian Redelinghuys, Warren Whiteley, Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss, Lood de Jager, Steven Kitshoff, Francois Louw, Tendai Mtawarira, Duane Vermeulen
Garth April, Patrick Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo, JP Pietersen, Wille le Roux, Ruan Combrinck, Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe, Jesse Kriel, Rudy Paige, Jan Serfontein, Damian de Allende, Nic Groom
While I am a huge van Rensburg fan, my reason behind mentioning him was mainly to illustrate the torrid situation Coetzee finds himself in. He simply cannot please everyone and there are going to be calls for other players, who haven’t been named in the squad, to be given a shot - It’s a tainted chalice this whole South African coaching thing.
There have also been a few people griping about the selection of Garth April as a backup ten with many fans saying he’s far too inexperienced to be the third – or possibly second choice if Elton Jantjies fails to overcome his thumb injury - choice ten in a Springbok squad.
Personally, I think April’s selection is a step in the right direction. Coetzee could have recalled Morne Steyn or even Johan Goosen – who’s been in sensational form playing at fullback and in the centres for French Club, Racing Metro – but would that not have been a case of reverting to the old tried and tested instead of giving a young attacking ten a bash?
Coetzee has brought a few of the old hands back from Europe however, with forwards Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, and Steven Kitschoff all being called up to Coetzee’s first ever squad. Vermeulen and Louw will add some International experience along with locally based players Pat Lambie, JP Pietersen, Eden Etzebeth, Tendai Mtawarira, Willie Le Roux, and Damian de Allende.
The aforementioned players long term exposure to the international scene will ensure that this exciting young ‘Bok squad don’t wither in the Test arena like a daisy exposed to nuclear fallout.
The question we’re left with though, is will Coetzee embrace the new and select a fresh-faced match day 23 or will he go the route of his predecessor and field a side that’s loaded with veterans? We’ll get the answer to that question when he names his squad for the first Test later this week.
The Springboks may have lost a few of their big guns to the lure of the Euro as well as retirement, but the South African rugby public aren’t the only ones who have bid adieu to a few familiar faces.
The Irish have also lost a few stalwarts this year with Paul O’Connell being the biggest loss of them all. The giant lock retired at the end of the 2015 World Cup and his absence deeply hindered Ireland’s Six Nations campaign.
Speaking of the northern hemisphere’s premier international rugby tournament, the Irish had an absolute ‘mare of a showing only winning two games and finishing in third. While there’s not too much shame in finishing third at the Six Nations it must be remembered that the Irish had won the previous two tournaments.
The biggest low point during the men for the Emerald Isle Six Nation campaign was their 10-9 loss to the French out in Paris. Having led a rather scrappy affair for the majority of the 80 minutes, the Irish capitulated as soon as talismanic flyhalf, Johnny Sexton, left the field with a concussion.
While I’m sure Allister Coetzee and his charges would have wanted to face the best possible Irish side, there must have been a combined sigh of relief drawn in the Springbok camp when the news that Sexton would miss the June internationals came through.
Make no bones about it, this Irish side is a hell of a lot more dangerous with Sexton in it. He’s the lynchpin, combining an educated kicking game with well-rounded passing. His ability to get his outside backs into the game and slot long-range conversions will be sorely missed by the Irish.
Irish Touring Squad
Finlay Bealham, Rory Best, Sean Cronin, Ultan Dillane, Tadgh Furlong, Jamie Heaslip, Iain Henderson, David Kilcoyne, Jack McGrath, Jordi Murphy, Sean Reidy, Mike Ross, Quinn Roux, Rhys Ruddock, Donnacha Ryan, CJ Stander, Richardt Strauss, Devin Toner.
Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Paddy Jackson Matt Healy Tiernan O'Halloran, Ian Madigan, Craig Gilroy, Kieran Marmion, Luke Marshall, Conor Murray, Stuart Olding, Jared Payne, Eoin Reddan, Andrew Trimble.
With Sexton out of the tour, Irish coach, Joe Schmidt, has been forced to do an about turn and recall Ian Madigan to the squad. The gifted utility back had been semi-frozen out of the national setup after announcing that he’d be leaving Irish club side Leinster to go and ply his trade in the French Top 14 with the Bordeaux Begles. He’s a talented player but he may struggle to fill the massive void left by Sexton.
The Irish will also be without the brothers Kearney who are both injured. While I think they have enough wing talent to cover for Dave Kearney, they will be affected by the not having his brother Rob in the squad. The Leinster fullback has been a rock for the Irish over the last eight years or so. And while Keith Earls is a decent enough option at 15, he is nowhere near as solid under the high ball as Kearney is.
Verdict: South Africa 3-0
I cannot see this injury hampered Irish side getting one over Allister Coetzee’s charges this June. Yes, this ‘Bok squad is yet to be tested but they still should have enough about them to see of a far from first choice Irish squad.