Johannesburg - The Springboks are under no illusions that the battle for supremacy in their series against France really begins in earnest in the second match of the rubber at Kings Park on Saturday.
According to the SuperSport website, the national team have settled into what for them is a new Durban home for them. They are staying on the top of Umhlanga Ridge in the Garden Court, while the French soak up the sun down the bottom of the hill in the Beverley Hills, which has housed the Boks on their trips to KZN for almost as long as can be remembered.
It isn’t the reason for the move, but coach Allister Coetzee will be happy if the change in venue takes his players out of their comfort zone a bit, for he knows that the French team will test their comfort zones on Saturday. Although the Boks won comfortably at Loftus in the first match of the series, the French are expected to be reinforced by a minimum of seven changes for the Durban game as players from the two clubs that competed in the French domestic final, Toulon and Clermont, come back into their system.
Among the changes anticipated from France are a wholesale reworking of the tight five, with the entire front-row expected to change and at least one lock, while it is anticipated that France will also have a new halfback pairing operating at Kings Park.
“We know it is going to be a massive second test,” said Coetzee in echoing the post-match comments of his captain, Warren Whiteley, on Monday.
“Although we won, we know we were far from perfect. We need to improve in all areas. There is a lot of work that needs to be put in this week. That was our first match and we know we will get better. Don’t forget we have a new team. But the French will be a lot better this week, and we know that. Some of the players from Toulon and Clermont are star players who have a big influence on the French game.”
The Boks got their finishing right in the second half when they put France away just as they had come strongly back into the game to trail by just two points near the hour mark. However, Coetzee intimated that he felt the Boks should have been out of sight by then and it shouldn’t have needed the scoring burst that started with a penalty try and was helped by a yellow card for his team to win it.
“We have to stick to the processes that we have been busy with as we did create a lot of opportunities in the first half that we didn’t take. We asked questions of them with ball in hand but there was a bit of over-eagerness in the first half that let us down. We had that pass from Jesse (Kriel) to Courtnall (Skosan) that went awry when there would have been a try, then there was a pass to (Ross) Cronje that also let us down. There was even a pass from Malcom (Marx) that was early to Raymond Rhule. All of those were scoring opportunities.”
Coetzee said that he was happy with the performance of his new-look back three, and said although there had been mistakes, they had scrambled well on defence. However, he admitted that the Boks had been severely tested in the wide channels, where the Boks lack the physical presence of most other international teams.
“Defensively they did ask a lot of questions of us, particularly in the wide channels, and here and there we let ourselves down by coming out of line. We know the French will target those areas on Saturday, but those are things we can fix and work on this week. The important thing was that we showed attitude in Pretoria, and defence is all about attitude. That is something you can’t coach.”
Coetzee has noted what was said by the French coach Guy Noves after the Loftus match and is clearly preparing for a ferocious physical onslaught from a side that felt they were dominated physically in the first test.
“Guy Noves is an experienced coach and he said the contact points had been lost. So there can be no doubt that the collisions will be a very important part of the game on Saturday. We know we will be up against a very well prepared French team in the second test and we are readying ourselves for that,” said the Bok coach.
With the concussion that has forced centre Jesse Kriel out of the game being the only injury concern, the team for the second test should feature just one change to the side that won the first match of the season. Francois Venter was called up to training at Northwood College on Monday afternoon to provide cover at outside centre, but Lionel Mapoe looks certain to wear the No 13.
Venter will return to the South Africa A side, who are also in Durban preparing for their match against the French Barbarians at Moses Mabida Stadium on Friday, should he not be included in the Bok match 23.
According to Coetzee, having the SA A side in such close proximity is a massive help to him.
“The SA A side is actually an extension of the Springbok squad, and we share a lot information and they have the same calls as us so that if players are called in they can easily adjust.”
With Damian de Allende having returned to Cape Town due to his contusion not clearing up as hoped, and with Sharks centre Lukhanyo Am not in the mix after sustaining a jaw fracture playing against the Stormers recently, Coetzee is pleased with the midfield talent he can call on from the ‘A’ side if needed.
“Francois Venter, Juan de Jongh and Harold Vorster are all highly capable players, but I am happy with the three (Frans Steyn, Jan Serfontein and a fit against Mapoe) that we have at the moment,” said Coetzee.
The team for the Durban clash will be named on Thursday.