The Springboks have every reason to make a positive start to the season with a win against France on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld, especially with captain Warren Whiteley’s wife expecting their second child.
There is a lot the Springboks need to make up for, especially with last year’s underwhelming four from 12 match report card still looming large in the minds of South African rugby supporters.
Springbok coach Allister Coetzee also has to manage the cost of Super Rugby and Top 14 injuries with Duane Vermeulen, Damian de Allende and Lionel Mapoe all missing the first test because of an assortment of injuries.
This could have been enough to give Coetzee a sleepless week, but having experienced a rough December, the Bok coach said he had moved on from last year’s train wreck despite the casualty list.
“There’s a massive difference this year from last year, and I do think last year is dead and buried.
“I didn’t have a December holiday and that’s where I think it started. We’re better off in terms of our management team, happy with the coaching team and negotiated the training camps,” he said.
“Last year, I didn’t know where I sat with the overseas players but now I [do] know.
“With Duane out, we’ve now only got two because Steven Kitshoff will be regarded as a local player from July 1.
“We also didn’t have a chance to create a team environment last year. You have to live the team environment.”
Coetzee knows better than to underestimate the French even though they are still finding their feet under coach Guy Noves.
They finished third in the Six Nations with losses to the far superior English and Irish sides undermining their progress.
Noves’s charges may have lost their flair and their unpredictable nature, but they still bring a forward threat that can scare the best in the world.
Their newly found pragmatism may play into the hands of the Springboks, but Coetzee knows the French just need to switch on and things could be different.
Coetzee also hopes his lieutenants, Franco Smith and Brendan Venter, will find their groove quickly.
“If you don’t respect the French, you’ll be punished. They’re the type of team you need to have a lot of respect for.
“They’ve often come out here and performed very well. They’ve been the most improved side in the Six Nations and were unlucky not be at the top.
“We’re just focusing on ourselves because we’re a young team and we want to measure ourselves against a tough team like France,” Coetzee said.
“We’ve got to get out of the blocks and win test matches.”