South Africa switch to plan B in bid to thwart Wales
Allister Coetzee gives youth a chance at the end of a ‘terrible, tough year’
South Africa head coach Allister Coetzee (right). Photograph: Getty Images.
At the end of what he described as a terrible year, South Africa’s head coach, Allister Coetzee, has chosen the rawest Springboks side in the professional era for Saturday’s Test against Wales in Cardiff rather than rely on experience to secure the victory some feel he needs to keep hold of his job.
The back division has a total of 40 caps, a figure reached by five of Wales’ backs, with the three-quarters sharing eight. There are three new caps and seven changes from the side that lost to Italy last Saturday. The frontrowers Tendai Mtawarira and Adriaan Strauss, the South Africa captain who is making his final international appearance, have more caps between them than their 13 team-mates combined.
Wales, in contrast, despite being without Sam Warburton who suffered a neck injury in training this week and returning Jamie Roberts to the bench, where he is joined by the fit again number eight Taulupe Faletau, field a starting line-up sharing 812 caps, more than three times the 260 of South Africa.
The visitors have two survivors from the team that took the field in the World Cup semi-final against New Zealand 13 months ago.
Outside the country
Coetzee has included only one player who is based outside the country – Racing 92’s Johan Goosen – as he rewards players who have stayed at home. The Toulon wing Bryan Habana, who has 124 caps, is among those dropped after the defeat in Florence and it may signal the end of his 12-year international career.
“We have picked some exciting youngsters and it is the right time to give them Test match exposure,” said Coetzee, who took over from Heyneke Meyer in April. “It is time to back them and I do not see the selection as a gamble. It is a good team and the right one for the future of South African rugby.
“It has been a terrible, tough year and it is right to try to get something out of it by taking this route. The large number of players based overseas is a problem for us. Another 50 are leaving at the end of this year and we have to back guys at home so players will have a look and say they would rather hang around and give themselves another shot at representing the Springboks. The policy has not been cast in stone but it will definitely be there in the next month or two.”
Four of the backs play for the Lions, who reached this year’s Super Rugby final, including the halfbacks Elton Jantjies and Faf de Klerk and the uncapped inside-centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg, the youngster player in the side at 22 and a prolific try scorer at provincial level. Habana’s place has been taken by Jamba Ulengo, who will make his first Test appearance at the age of 26.
‘Knowledge and experience’
“I would not go as far as saying this is the end for Bryan,” said Coetzee. “He has not just got a role on the field but a massive one off it for South African rugby and he has been mentoring Jamba this week, sharing his knowledge and experience. At the beginning of the season, I talked to Bryan about the role I wanted him to play and now we have to review that.
“This season has been the lowest of the lows and the only way is up. On Monday, players were hurting following the loss to Italy and it was very morbid. We had the day off to get on with psychological repair and I could see in training the next day we had moved on.
“We are seeking revival, not redemption, and I want the guys to play without fear against Wales and enjoy it. I think there was a fear of failure against Italy which showed itself in overthinking, but there is a different mindset this week.”
Wales have won two of their three matches this month, but their management team has come under pressure after last Saturday’s late and narrow victory over Japan. They have chosen the team that defeated Argentina the week before apart from blindside flanker where Dan Lydiate replaces Warburton.
“We beat Japan, but the performance and expectation of the players and coaches came up short,” said Rob Howley, Wales’s interim head coach. “We are going out to play: that is the modern game. We have the players to do it and, after hurting ourselves against Japan, it is a matter of being sensible.”