A few months ago there was much concern that the delay in the naming of the new Springbok coach would impact on the team’s chances of doing well in their first series, but newly installed Allister Coetzee is adamant that the preparation has been more than adequate.
“There was a lot of speculation beforehand about whether there’d be enough time to get ready for Ireland, but I can tell you this much, we are very well prepared,” said Coetzee after announcing the first test team as coach in Cape Town.
“Over the week we were in Stellenbosch the guys really got stuck into training and there has been fantastic energy and a huge work ethic. That has helped everything to come together. I am very excited to be naming the first team of the new start. It is the start of a new era and everyone is excited and read to play and ready to perform.
“It wasn’t an easy team selection to make because there were a lot of difficult decisions to make. But the competitiveness (for places) and the intensity of the effort in training made it a lot easier. We have pulled very quickly together as one team and we are ready to play.”
The Boks play the first test of the three match series against Ireland at Newlands on Saturday, and while Adriaan Strauss will be the official captain, the leadership is an area where Coetzee has his bases well covered.
Flyhalf Patrick Lambie is the team’s official vice-captain, but Coetzee said that the leadership reins would be taken by Duane Vermeulen should Adriaan Strauss be injured early in the match.
“I prefer my leader to be in the pack,” he explained.
Should Vermeulen and Strauss both be injured, or should Vermeulen leave the field later on so a tactical substitution can take place, then the leadership experience of Lions captain Warren Whiteley could also be crucial.
“Not only will Warren come on at a time when the game should have opened up (which would suit his style of play), he will also come on when it could be tense and close and then composure will be needed and his leadership experience could be crucial. These days it’s not about a 15 man team but a 23-man match day group of players who all have roles to play.”
Coetzee explained that his choice of Lambie ahead of Elton Janties at flyhalf also had nothing to do with the finger injury that kept Jantjies from playing over the past few weeks and which ruled him out of taking a full part in training until the last few days.
“My policy is that if I had any doubt of the fitness of a player, I would rather play the one that I have doubts about in the starting team as that way you have a fully fit player ready to come on should he go down early,” said Coetzee.
“We are fortunate to have two top quality flyhalves and thank goodness they are both ready to play. Patrick showed great form when he came back late from injury and boasted in the 80 percent range with his place-kicking. It is great to have both players playing well, and I am sure Elton will get an opportunity to get a run at some stage.
“Patrick is the vice-captain. The leadership group will be Adriaan and Duane, with Patrick as the vice-captain running the backs.”
It sounds like, for now at least Lambie could be in for an extended stint as the team vice-captain, with Jantjies, considered by many to be the form flyhalf in Super Rugby before Lambie returned from injury, playing off the bench.
It does make sense as Lambie, with 50 caps, is by the far the most experienced inside back in the team, with the most capped back being wing JP Pietersen, with 66.
The game at Newlands kicks-off from 5pm.
Meanwhile, Coetzee’s team face rigorous tests from this month until November.
This will give him enough time to select formations that would suit his style that made him popular at the DHL Stormers.
With suspensions and injuries likely to curtail his plans, one thing is for certain that he has a pool of experienced players’ who are ready to fill the positions when that need arises.
As part of supporting the boys and new coach the minister of sport Fikile “Mbaks” Mbalula will visit the team at their camp ahead of the Castle Lager Incoming Tour on Saturday, reports Sydney Morweng-news editor.