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South Africa v France 10.6.17

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From Bill van Zyl

 

Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 17:00 local (15:00 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

After the mysteries of Michael Cheika’s selections for Australia, we have the weirdness of Allister Coetzee’s choices for South Africa. Much like Cheika, Coetzee has made sweeping changes to his team. Eight of the team that started the Bok’s last Test of 2016, against Wales in Cardiff, have been booted right out of the squad as Coetzee hands out four new caps, to Andries Coetzee, Raymond Rhule, Courtnall Skosan and Ross Cronje in his starting XV to face France. Another uncapped player, Dillyn Leyds, is on the bench and should earn his first cap if Allister does what Allister does, and that is to throw his entire bench onto the field as the game progresses.

Only four of the squad that played Wales will start in this game, Warren Whiteley, Elton Jantjies, Franco Mostert and Tendai Mtawarira, all get a run-on, while the other survivors, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Bongi Mbonambi and Steven Kitshoff will start off the bench.

Some of Coetzee’s thinking makes sense if we were living in normal times. He has gone with combinations as much as possible – Cronje and Jantjies as half backs, Serfontein and Kriel in the midfield, and Coetzee and Skosaan as part of a back three that, somewhat weirdly, includes Raymond Rhule.

This is a hugely inexperienced back division, with just 54 caps amongst the whole lot. These are untested combinations at the highest level of the game. And I am not sure they are all the best players in the positions in which they have been chosen. I am not even sure they are all the “form” players in South Africa at the moment.

I still wonder why Ruan Combrinck is not in the squad. I am not sure what Willie le Roux has done wrong. I do not know why Francois Hougaard and Frans Steyn are on the bench? I have not seen the Serfontein/Kriel midfield pairing spark at all this season…. Raymond Rhule has a reputation for being one of the worst defenders in the Cheetahs’ squad, and that is saying something in a squad that is known for seriously leaky defence!

I regret to say that I am even more puzzled by his loose-forward selection. The only open-sider in his entire squad, and the form flanker in South Africa, Jaco Kriel, is nowhere to be seen, while Siya Kolisi starts as open sider despite having played on the blind side all of 2017. Oupa Mahoje gets a start on the blindside, with Whiteley at 8. And then we have the somewhat single minded Jean-Luc de Preez as back-up off the bench.

Quite simply, there is no fetcher anywhere in this trio. Coetzee has handed the contestable loose ball to the French!

All three his starting loosies are players who like to play out wide. None of them offer the muscle that is needed around the edges and in the rough stuff. Mahoje adds a lineout option, but he is no great tackler, with a penchant for going high and earning penalties and yellow cards in the process. He is also no great carrier of the ball. Kolisi and Whiteley like to run wide as links on the outside. There is nobody to offer the muscle and physicality one sometimes needs around the fringes.

None of the three chosen ones play towards the ball. And that is a very serious problem against a French side who will play the physical game!

Frans Steyn has earned a recall to the bench for his first Test selection since 2012. I am not sure of this choice, although he does provide some back-up in the flyhalf position. His experience and mongrel might have served South Africa better in a starting role. And his ultra-long range boot might just have added some early points too.

Admittedly, Coetzee is missing some very important big guns. Duane Vermeulen is, once again, on the injured list, as is Damian de Allende, Lionel Mapoe, Handre Pollard, Francois Louw, Marcell Coetzee and Rohan Janse van Rensburg to name a few.

Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira extends his record as the most-capped Springbok prop to 87 appearances. It will be his 25th successive Test for South Africa. I am not sure that Steven Kitshoff would not have been a better starting option, with the Beast to come off the bench.

Franco Mostert gets to start alongside Eben Etzebeth in the second row, with Pieter-Steph du Toit to come off the bench. I am guessing that Coetzee wants Mostert’s mongrel and physicality to back up Etzebeth in the early stages of a game that promises to be very physical.

I have very little problem with the tight five and their bench reserves. I might have started with Kitshoff and du Toit, but both offer super-sub potential.

The loose trio worries me, and I think the back division is lightweight at best. Once again we have a backline short of experience and even shorter in leadership. If Jantjies wobbles under pressure again…………

The total number of Test caps for the Springbok starting line-up is 265. There are 54 caps in the backline and 211 amongst the forwards, while the total on the bench is 151 caps.

France have made 11 changes to the team that played the last Six Nations fixture. Only Brice Dulin, Gaël Fickou, Virimi Vakatawa and Louis Picamoles remain from that win over Wales, with Yoann Huget coming into the back three.

Henry Chavancy of Racing 92 makes a first Test start for France at outside centre, with Maxime Machenaud and Jules Plisson forming the half-back pairing.

Picamoles is joined in the back row by Loann Goujon and Yacouba Camara, while the new lock combination has Yoann Maestri, the captain, and Julien le Devedec together.

And an entirely new front row sees props Uini Atonio and Jefferson Poirot both start, with Clément Maynadier at hooker in place of regular France captain Guilhem Guirado.

Possible new caps off the bench include the La Rochelle duo Mohamed Boughanmi and Vincent Rattez.

Prediction: When a team talks big, I start to worry. And the Bok management, especially assistant forward coach Johann Van Graan, have done their fair share of talking big this last week. Perhaps this is intended to give the squad (and the host of nervous supporters) some positive vibes by telling them their coaches have confidence in the team? Maybe it is somebody making a lot of noise as they walk past the local cemetery at night, just to ward off the ghosts and ghoulies?

I would rather a team walk the walk, than talk the talk.

We know that the French have arrived with a team that is tired after a long and arduous domestic season. We know that a number of their big guns have been left at home. None of the players who featured in last week’s Top 14 final are in the team for the first test. There is no Xavier Chiocci, Guilhem Guirado, Arthur Iturria, Romain Taofifenua, Camille Lopez, and Damian Penaud, and they represent a significant proportion of France’s better players.

We know that this French team is light on experience.

The game is at Loftus, where the thin atmosphere will also burn the lungs of the visitors in the latter stages of the game.

In normal times the Springboks would be overwhelming favorites to bank a win. But that is in normal times, and not based on the reality of 2017.

The 2016 season still looms as an embarrassing reminder of a team that lost it’s mojo and all direction, and a coach who lost his focus, completely. The lack of physicality and game plan in 2016 should have rung every alarm bell possible, yet Allister Coetzee has again chosen to go into a Test match with a hugely inexperienced squad that is woefully short on the physically abrasive and tactically astute players needed at the top level of the game.

(And then there are those who point fingers at Eben Etzebeth and say he is a “bully” and “ill-disciplined” and “too physical” and all sorts of other things that frighten little children in the night. In fact he is precisely the kind of player that earned South Africa the reputation for uncompromising grit and determination in the halcyon days of Springbok glory. We need 15 Eben Etzebeth types to wear the green and gold, and not talk about dumping him for being a hard player!)

There’s been a lot of talk about attacking out wide, and the likes of Coetzee and Skosaan will deliver if they get the ball in space and going forward, but the hard yards need to be done first. You have to win possession of the ball before you can take it out wide!

France boast a dangerous close in ball-carrier in No 8 Louis Picamoles. Big backs such as No 12 Gaël Fickou and wingers Virimi Vakatawa and Yoann Huget will test the mettle of the Bok backline, especially out wide where Rhule and Skosaan will need to tackle a lot. (In the case of Raymond Rhule, just tackle…) And then we need to consider the defensive frailty of flyhalf Elton Jantjies….

The selection of three newbies in the back three, and yet another newbie outside back on the bench, is another gamble by Coetzee. Although France have a raw flyhalf in Jules Plisson I can see him being tasked to test the Bok back three with lots of high balls, with the muscularity of Vakatawa and Huget chasing to contest the ball in the air…..

We have yet to see whether Allister Coetzee has worked out a game plan for his team… Any game plan….

I would hesitate to say that South Africa will win this one easily, but I do think that the Loftus factor and the fact that the French are coming off a long and arduous season will probably swing the game in the Springboks’ favour.

I do not think it will be pretty, but the Springboks should win, just.

Teams:

South Africa: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Dillyn Leyds

France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Henry Chavancy, 12 Gaël Fickou, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Loann Goujon, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Yoann Maestri (c), 4 Julien le Devedec, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Clément Maynadier, 1 Jefferson Poirot

Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Eddy Ben Arous, 18 Mohamed Boughanmi, 19 Bernard le Roux, 20 Kévin Gourdon, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Vincent Rattez

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Oh well if we get screwed by the French (what 2nd team?) then we know we don't have to pitch up, pay for tickets or DSTV for the  4nations. Can save us a lot of money in the long run ;)

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I harp on about certain aspects of the game of rugby which are important to me as a former player, coach and pundit. Bill has not made particular reference to these which I believe have a massive effect on a game.

Paying attention to basic skills is fundamental to either scoring points or the prevention of opposition scores - tackling, passing, catching, kicking and running in space. I have gone through this team man for man and not one escapes my litmus test with a decent mark.

I have always said that the spine of a rugby team is 2; 8; 9; 10; 15. In my view this team is spineless.

In days gone by the number 15 in a team was the last line of defense and needed to be a rock both in the tackle and under the high ball. Nowadays that has been extended and the last line is a "back three". In this case they have serious defensive frailties.

The halfbacks are the brains of a team - this team is brainless.

I am desperately sorry that Duane Vermeulen is injured as he would have given this team the stability and strength under pressure that it lacks in my view. Etzebeth - "The Enforcer" is a silly boy in a man's body.

Will the Boks get out of jail due to the raw nature of this French team which I suggested some time ago would not be properly representative? We will see. The real tests lie ahead in the games against our usual foes. 

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