Coetzee and the Boks ... chapter two

Lloyd Burnard
Lloyd Burnard

Cape Town - Allister Coetzee and the Springboks, chapter two. 

On June 10 in Pretoria, the coach will start his path towards redemption when the Boks host France in the first of three crucial Tests. 

It is the beginning of a new era for Springbok rugby - again - and this time around Coetzee can have no excuses. 

He has had time to plan and if he doesn't get results then the pressure on him will reach new heights. It is hard to see him getting out alive if he loses the series. 

On Tuesday, 'Toetie' announced his first squad of the year - a 31-man group that has a certain novelty about it. 

On the surface, it is an exciting squad, with eight uncapped players included as Coetzee rewarded some of those who have shown good Super Rugby form. 

There is also the comfort of a few experienced names - Frans Steyn, Duane Vermeulen, Francois Hougaard - returning. 

Coetzee has clearly sought a blend between experience and youth, and while he may have achieved that, there are a few areas of concern that stand out. 

The appointment of Warren Whiteley as captain is not one of them. 

He is the only South African Super Rugby captain who knows what it is like to win week in and week out, he leads by example through his work ethic and ability on the field, he communicates brilliantly with his players and referees and he is a man who is undeniably passionate about playing for his country. 

If Whiteley can instill that same devotion into his players then Coetzee will have won half the battle before a ball is kicked. 

The only issue with Whiteley's inclusion is that Vermeulen will have to shift from No 8 to No 7. It may not be overly significant, and he will still be expected to make carries, tackles and turnovers, but Vermeulen has started all 37 of his Test matches to date in the No 8 jersey. 

The pack, in general, looks strong. 

There is perhaps a concern over the size of the loose trio - they may be a little light with Whiteley, Vermeulen and Kolisi/Kriel - but in general there should not be any cause for panic. 

Malcolm Marx is an able replacement for Adriaan Strauss at hooker, Beast Mtawarira remains while Steven Kitshoff, Coenie Oosthuizen and the uncapped Ruan Dreyer provide a good balance in the front row. 

The backline, however, is where things get worrying. 

With Pat Lambie and Handre Pollard both out injured, Elton Jantjies is the logical first-choice flyhalf while Steyn also provides an option there. 

Jantjies has been the form South African flyhalf in Super Rugby, but his struggles on the Test stage last year were well documented. 

He certainly deserves another crack, but if he battles again, then Coetzee will have limited alternatives. 

Steyn has started just once in the No 10 jersey for the Boks in 53 Test matches, and he has been used predominantly in the midfield at Montpellier.  

Steyn could provide some much-needed bulk if selected in the No 12 channel, while Coetzee has the likes of Jan Serfontein, Lukhanyo Am, Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende as his other midfield options. 

Whichever way he goes, Coetzee will likely be fielding a 10/12/13 combination that did not play together once last year. 

There is also a complete lack of experience when turning attention to the back three. 

Coetzee named three specialist wings in his squad - Courtnall Skosan, Dillyn Leyds and Raymond Rhule. While those players - Skosan and Leyds in particular - have been in superb Super Rugby form in 2017, they are all uncapped at Test level. 

With the likes of Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen not in the squad, Coetzee is sacrificing experience out wide.

Hougaard did play some rugby on the wing for the Boks last year, but scrumhalf remains his best position. 

At fullback, Coetzee has ditched Willie le Roux and called up another uncapped player in Lions No 15 Andries Coetzee. 

He does have experienced options there in Kriel and Steyn, but fullback is another position where the Boks could be fielding a Test newbie. 

Coetzee - Allister, not Andries - chopped and changed a lot last year in an attempt to find a winning formula. Different combinations were backed, then ditched and then backed again. 

By the end of the year, he was no closer towards figuring out what his best side was. 

The selection of his first squad in 2017 proves that. 

Whatever happened last year needed to be overhauled, and Coetzee has done that by selecting an inspiring skipper - even if his hand was forced - and a new-look backline. 

But with that newness comes an element of uncertainty. You cannot predict how players will cope on the Test stage until they are actually exposed to it, and with so many new faces and combinations likely to make up the first Bok team, it will be like Coetzee is starting all over again. 

Regardless of what happens, it is almost impossible to see the Boks being worse this year than they were in 2016. 

Lloyd Burnard is a journalist at Sport24 and the former Sports Editor of The Witness newspaper ...

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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