New era dawns for Springboks against Ireland
Cape Town (AFP)
A new era dawns for the South African Springboks Saturday when they tackle weakened Ireland in Cape Town in the first of three Tests.
The country that won the World Cup twice will have a new coach, a new captain, a new scrum-half, a new racial outlook and probably a new playing style.
Allister Coetzee, the second black coach after Peter de Villiers to coach the green and gold, was chosen two months ago to succeed Heyneke Meyer.
A disastrous final season of his four-year contract sealed the fate of Meyer with five losses including a sensational 2015 World Cup beating by minnows Japan.
He stubbornly refused to accept racial transformation either after decades of white-dominated teams, consistently starting with no more than three black players.
Ninety percent of South Africans are black and the government and the national rugby body agree that half the 2019 Springboks World Cup side must be black.
The exit of Meyer leaves former Western Stormers Super Rugby coach Coetzee with two major tasks -- restore a winning culture and give black stars a chance.
He chose five black starters, including veteran loosehead prop Tendai 'The Beast' Mtawarira to face Johnny Sexton-less Ireland at Newlands stadium.
Another four black players, among them uncapped hooker Bongi Mbonambi, are among the eight replacements.
"We are starting afresh and I have rewarded Super Rugby form," stressed Coetzee after his first team announcement.
The composition was predictable with scrum-half Faf de Klerk rewarded for a string of outstanding displays with the Golden Lions.
"I do not want Faf to just be seen as a link, I want him to play his game and ask questions of the Irish defence," said Coetzee.
"When you look at a scrum-half, one of the key things is that he does the basics well.
"Faf has good kicking and passing games. But you also look for other skills.
“The breakdown area could be a mess, and you need a scrum-half who can get the ball out quickly. Faf can do that."
Another Lion, centre Lionel Mapoe, partners Damian de Allende at centre after his superb Super Rugby form last season was mysteriously ignored by Meyer.
Hooker Adriaan Strauss succeeds retired centre Jean de Villiers as skipper and has warned his team-mates not to underestimate injury-hit Ireland.
"Every player in world rugby who gets the opportunity to represent his country lifts his game. The Irish are a very proud nation and they will lift their game."
While Coetzee has understandably kept his game plan under wraps, it is likely to be more expansive than the outdated, boring kick-and-chase style of Meyer.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is plotting a road to recovery after a 2015 World Cup quarter-finals exit and only two wins in five Six Nations games this year.
Although the absence of injured fly-half Sexton is a massive blow, he has talked up replacement playmaker Paddy Jackson.
"Johnny has been the conductor of the orchestra and we are confident that Paddy can step up and do a similar job," said the New Zealand-born coach.
"I think he has got big boots to fill, but I think his feet will slot in quite nicely."
Ireland have beaten the Springboks five times in 22 Tests since they first met in 1906, but lost all seven in South Africa.
© 2016 AFP