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Rugby | Springboks

Time to buck the Durban trend



You could almost see and hear Allister Coetzee’s sharp intake of breath when he was asked the question he was probably cringing about the possibility of facing all week building up to his Springbok team’s clash with France at Kings Park on Saturday.

It referred to what must surely have been the big unmentionable in the Bok camp ever since they arrived in Durban on Sunday after their 37-14 win over the French in the first match of the three match series.

How were the Boks going to respond to the need to provide the KZN public with something to make up for their failure on the last visit and get the Durban public to believe in them again?

As it so happens, the captains and the coaches of the Proteas might have been asked similar questions when they have visited this city in recent years.

It wasn’t long ago that the national cricket team was complaining that Kingsmead, when used as the venue for the annual Boxing Day test, felt like an alien venue.

But while the cricketers have struggled in Durban more than they have in most other South African cities, their experiences – test losses to England twice since 2010, India and Sri Lanka - don’t rank alongside those of the Boks in terms of the sheer darkness of the experience.

For let’s not forget that the 50 point thrashing at the hands of the All Blacks last October was preceded just 14 months earlier by one of the bleakest ever days in South African rugby history – a first ever home soil defeat to Argentina.

Forgotten at this point of the Bok history is what preceded the past two years, such as the victories here in 2009 against both the British and Irish Lions and the All Blacks.

The most recent games get remembered at times like this, and they ranked much nearer the nadir of Bok performance through the history of the green and gold than the zenith.

Coetzee and his men, much though they pretend that everything that happened last year has been put behind them, cannot have forgotten how they felt after the All Blacks annihilated them, and those who were involved, wouldn’t easily forget the Argentina defeat either.

Those memories though should be internalised and drawn on for extra motivation on Saturday, for there is plenty of irony in the fact that this second test is being played at the scene of those defeats.

For this is the Boks’ chance to make the biggest statement since the All Black defeat, and the national coaching indaba and other corrective attempts that followed it, and bring back some of the positivity that has been missing.

It would be wrong to say that the South African game has been devoid of anything positive to talk or write about since last October.

The indaba was a step forward, and there were other big decisions made subsequent to that meeting that in time could put South African rugby on the path to success.

It won’t happen overnight though, and those charged with the task of leading the game in this country back to the light know that no matter what they do, no matter how many gains they make or strides they take, the public will measure progress by the Bok performances.

BOK VULNERABILITIES

The indaba last year was followed by a disastrous end of year tour where the Boks lost three out of three tests and only managed a draw against a scratch Barbarians team at Wembley.

That was a setback to any chance of putting a positive message across, to being able to claim any progress was being made.

Saturday’s game will arguably not completely turn the vibe around, but after last year’s failures, any win is a big event, and Loftus last week was, as Coetzee put it, certainly a baby step in the right direction.

Of course, off-setting the joy of winning, and dampening any would-be euphoria, was the knowledge that the French were at best at half-strength.

The team that represented France at Loftus was without the players who represented the two sides that contested the French domestic final. On Thursday eight changes were made to the team that was well beaten in Pretoria.

So the real test series starts on Saturday, and so does the big challenge.

A defeat would be a massive setback in that it would erase the Loftus win from memory.

Coetzee, his coaches and players know that, which is why they have worked so hard to temper enthusiasm and expectation, and downplay the quality of the performance at Loftus, in the build-up to Kings Park.

If the Boks win it will be two wins in a row, and it would have been achieved against France’s strongest team.

In the past that might have not been something to crow about, but two in a row would be a significant step forward, and it would provide a massive confidence boost to a national team that put together hardly one half of really convincing rugby in 2016.

Who is going to win? After last week it is hard to say, because while the Boks were much improved, and the boxes were ticked when it came to many of the component parts of their overall game, a depleted French team asked enough questions.

More questions will be asked this week by a French team that might have a better idea now what to expect, and which might know where the Bok vulnerabilities are – the wide channels being one such area.

Yet confidence is all-important and the Boks gained some of that last week, and have momentum.

The confidence boost that came from the Loftus win might just be the ingredient that gets them home, thus creating more momentum.

If they do that, the Durban trend would have been bucked, and Kings Park might be remembered more for a rebirth than for the misery of 2015 and 2016.

TEAMS FOR KINGS PARK TEST

South Africa: Andries Coetzee, Raymond Rhule, Lionel Mapoe, Jan Serfontein, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje, Warren Whiteley, Oupa Mohoje, Siya Kolisi, Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Coenie Oosthuizen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jean-luc du Preez, Francois Hougaard, Frans Steyn, Dillyn Leyds.

France: Scott Spedding, Yoann Huget, Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Virimi Vakatawa, Francois Trinh-Duc, Baptiste Serin, Louis Picamoles, Kevin Gourdon, Yacouba Camara, Romain Taofifeuna, Yoann Maestri, Rabah Slimani, Guilhelm Guirado (captain), Jefferson Poirot.

Replacements: Clement Maynadier, Eddy Ben Arous,, Uini Atonio, Julien le Devdec, Bernhard le Roux, Antoine Dupont, Jean-Marc Doussain, Nans Ducuing.

Kick-off: 5pm

Prediction: Boks to scrape a narrow win



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