Springbok coach Allister Coetzee is looking for dramatic improvement when his team start their Rugby Championships campaign against Argentina at Mbombela Stadium tomorrow.
He, too, has not forgotten his team’s sins in their 2-1 series win over Ireland in June and there is a tacit realisation that only marked improvement will keep them in the win column.
“We have to improve in a big way,” Coetzee said.
“The improvement must be dramatic since the Irish series.
“If you are going to improve in small steps, a team like Argentina will put you to bed.
“They are a world force in rugby.
“They finished in the semifinals of [two of the last three] World Cups.”
To that end, Coetzee changed a third of his starting lineup, of which three fifths was in the pack.
The expectation is that the Pumas will vent much of their natural rugby gifts through their forwards.
The Boks intend delivering some body blows of their own.
While the timing of Lood de Jager’s return to the starting lineup would have caught a few observers off guard, the coach raved about his fitness levels earlier this week.
His inclusion means PieterSteph du Toit’s much vaunted second row partnership with Eben Etzebeth is broken but Du Toit will come off the bench, perhaps even as a blindside flank.
“That worked for the Stormers,” Coetzee said of the Etzebeth/Du Toit combo.
“I know the challenge will be up front.
“Lood hasn’t played test rugby for a while and I think it is better that we start with Lood and try to get set piece dominance.
“We’ve got a plan with our impact coming off the bench and I think Pieter-Steph fits that bill with his athleticism.”
De Jager in full flow can be a spectacle. He times his ballcarrying incursions well and is a surprisingly adroit handler given his lumbering frame.
Oupa Mohoje has been added to the backrow, which should significantly bolster the Springboks’ lineout, already endowed with Warren Whiteley’s aerial ability at the tail.
Julian Redelinghuys gets his expected start at tighthead, a position some feel he can now make his own.
Seeking balance in his team’s kicking game, Coetzee – as expected – included Racing Metro’s Johan Goosen at fullback.
The coach again likened Goosen to All Blacks ace Beauden Barrett.
“We have a similar type of player. Johan has a good running game, aerial skills second to none and he kicks the ball a mile.”
Bryan Habana’s return and elevation to vice-captain ticks a number of boxes.
With 117 caps compared with the 36 of the rest of the backs, he brings experience while imparting knowledge.
Having him as vice-captain also draws the sting from the potential debate about who should be a natural successor to Adriaan Strauss, should circumstance – unforeseen or otherwise – bring about his absence.
Springbok team to play Argentina: Johan Goosen; Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Damian de Allende, Bryan Habana; Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk; Warren Whiteley, Oupa Mohoje, Francois Louw; Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth; Julian Redelinghuys, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Tendai Mtawarira. Substitutes: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jaco Kriel; Rudy Paige, Juan de Jongh, Jesse Kriel.