Such was the mental scarring of last year’s traumatic experiences, Springbok coach Allister Coetzee says tomorrow’s first test against France at Loftus Versfeld will be a new beginning.
The fact that he included four debutants in his first match-day 23 of the year lent credence to his claims of wanting to chart a new direction with his class of 2017.
Andries Coetzee, Raymond Rhule, Ross Cronje and Courtnall Skosan will make their test bows in the starting lineup, with another debutant, Dillyn Leyds, named on the bench.
With his job reportedly on the line should his charges flounder in the three-match series, Coetzee has hedged his bets with players who avoided the mental battering inflicted by last year’s eight defeats from 12 matches.
“It means a new beginning in terms of everything,” he said.
“You can have young players, which leads to a vibrant group of players, and I hope they’ll take that to the field when they play.
“They’ll make mistakes because they’re young players and we don’t live in a fool’s paradise, but I’m sure that there’s energy and intensity and that is something I am looking forward to seeing.”
Coetzee may have fielded one of the more inexperienced Springbok sides in the last 10 years, but his selections are a nod to the success of the Lions and the combinations that worked for them.
The starting 15 has a combined 265 caps, with 54 in the backs, 211 in the forwards and 151 on the bench.
Lock Franco Mostert got the nod ahead of Eben Etzebeth’s Stormers teammate PieterSteph du Toit, while hooker Malcolm Marx will start ahead of Bongi Mbonambi.
Coetzee also opted for Frans Malherbe’s experience at tighthead despite Ruan Dreyer’s outstanding 2017 form for the Lions, while Coenie Oosthuizen’s selection on the bench is a nod to his accelerating development as a tighthead.
Returning Springbok Frans Steyn will be starting from the bench and is set to end his fouryear hiatus as flyhalf cover for the starting Elton Jantjies.
In all, Coetzee picked seven Lions players while the indifferent form of the Bulls (two), Stormers (four), and the Cheetahs (two) is reflected in their minimal representation.
The Sharks could be unfortunate to have only three players in the 23 despite their reasonable showings this season, but the Lions have been the dominant South African Super Rugby force in the past two seasons.
This weighed heavily on Coetzee’s mind, considering his diffidence towards them last year and how they saved his bacon in the second and third tests against Ireland last year after they trailed in the first test.
There was also the questionable midfield combination of Jesse Kriel and Jan Serfontein in the face of the Bulls’ substandard Super Rugby campaign with the latter playing second fiddle behind Burger Odendaal.
With a back three who will all be making their debuts, the selection of the Bulls centre pairing does make sense.
It will be a case of them delivering on the faith placed in them by Coetzee.
15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi, 5 Francois Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: 16 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Coenraad Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 JeanLuc du Preez, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Francois Steyn, 23 Dillyn Leyds.