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Rugby | Springboks

Allister Coetzee and Malcolm Marx © Gallo Images

Matt on Boks: time to make a statement

Having read some of the rumours via ‘inside sources’ in the South African media following the Springboks’ capitulation in Dublin on Saturday, some may have been surprised just by the presence of coach Allister Coetzee at Monday’s first media conference in Paris ahead of what is surely to be a tough week of introspection, honesty and hard work for management and players.

Yet, there he was, answering a flood of questions about the performance, his future and the challenge of playing France in five days’ time. Contrary to reports, he said, he had not had a “heated exchange” with SARU President Mark Alexander post-match, but a “constructive conversation” and was quick to point out that it was not for him to comment on rumours but to throw everything into preparing for the next match on this tour.

Surely there has to be some fall-out in terms of personnel in Paris, over and above the two players unavailable through injury. Coenie Oosthuizen returned from Dublin to South Africa in need of surgery on his badly damaged knee, a cruel and crippling blow to a man who had so successfully reignited his Springbok career earlier this year and worked hard to be ready for this tour following a previous injury.

Pieter-Steph du Toit left the field late in the game against Ireland with symptoms of concussion and will definitely not be available for selection on Saturday, necessitating a back-row reshuffle.

It was Oosthuizen’s tour replacement that has made speculation around the make-up of the back row more interesting.

With five other props on tour and Trevor Nyakane able to cover both sides, Coetzee opted for Toulon-based Duane Vermeulen as a replacement, looking further to the Italy match for which Siya Kolisi will be unavailable due to the birth of his second child.

It would appear likely – notwithstanding the fact that he has played only about a game-and-a-half for his club since returning from a lengthy injury spell on the sidelines – that Vermeulen will slot straight into the back row and will surely add some much-needed calm and experience into the leadership group at a time when spirits need some lifting.

The Springbok coach was almost at a loss for words following the defeat in Dublin, and appeared on point when saying that there were “simply no positives” to take out of the game, despite maintaining that the preparation week had gone well.

This was something corroborated by former Bok captain Jean de Villiers, who attended last Thursday’s final session at Donnybrook and declared it one of the best he had seen, bristling with energy, accuracy and intent.

What is so perplexing, then, is how a team can offer so little on match day after preparing so well (Tuesday’s live scrum session had also been outstanding).

Regardless of the strength of your internal team culture and environment, it requires a physical and mental ‘step up’ to assert that bond on an opposition in front of their own passionate fans and in unfamiliar conditions.

Furthermore, consistency in selection has been an important policy for Coetzee this year, but he has not been rewarded with consistency of performance, with promising (if far from perfect) performances against France, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand (in Cape Town) being punctuated by the horror shows of Albany and Dublin.

If those aforementioned ‘inside sources’ have any merit, they would suggest that the coach’s job beyond this tour is in the balance, meaning that on-going consistency in selection could prove churlish.

If responsibility and accountability are to be taken, some strong selection statements surely need to be made on the remainder of this tour.

While the mood was understandably sombre on departure from Dublin, there was a visible lift in spirits at Monday’s first training session in Paris, which should be given a further boost with the experience and no-nonsense attitude of Vermeulen being added to the training field mix on Tuesday.

Five months ago, the Springboks beat France by a minimum of 22 points on three consecutive Saturdays. A different proposition on home turf and with some rest, certainly, but a convincing South African win now appears to be a non-negotiable for some belief to be restored.


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