Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has done everything I asked for – which was to load the team with Lions Super Rugby players and to pick combinations where possible.
I’d back the in-form Lions Super rugby side to beat the French in Saturday’s opening Test and feel equally comfortable the Lions-dominated Springboks will be too good for the tourists.
The biggest challenge from the French will come in the second Test, but they will be underdone in the first Test. Their coach and nine of their players only arrived in South Africa earlier this week and they will be up against a team whose core have played in the same Super Rugby side for the last four months.
Coetzee has been more practical in his second year first-up selection than he was a year ago against Ireland in Cape Town.
There is general consensus, among fans and critics, that Coetzee has primarily rewarded Super Rugby form. The exception would be Bulls midfielders Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel.
Individually both have huge talent and were dominant as juniors, but as a Test duo they are as green as the many international debutants for Saturday.
Injury has curtailed the midfield options but the on-field presence of Frans Steyn (in the last 30-40 minutes) will give the midfield greater presence. It may also allow for a reshuffle, which sees Serfontein moved to outside centre and Kriel given game time at fullback.
I think fullback is Kriel’s best position and he has previously struggled with his defensive organisation as a Test midfielder. But this is a new international season and everyone starts afresh.
The key to any Springbok success is if the Lions players are allowed to play the Lions way. If so, I see them winning fairly comfortably in Pretoria.
It’s a big series for Elton Jantjies who in five years has only started seven of his 11 Tests. Jantjies, in the past few seasons, has been the standout South African flyhalf in Super Rugby but invariably has not transferred that form to the Springboks.
It could be a case of him just not being good enough or it could be that he has never been given the responsibility to take charge as the national team’s general.
If Coetzee has instilled a sense of trust in him, we could finally see the best of Jantjies as a Test player. There will – and should not – be no excuses for Jantjies post this French series because every selection for the first Test complements and protects him. Coetzee has given Jantjies his Super Rugby halfback partner in Ross Cronje, as well as the bulk of the Lions team, which includes captain Warren Whiteley as the man in charge of the Boks.
Everything has been fashioned, in selection, environment and (hopefully) style of play to make Jantjies succeed. He now has to show he has the mental strength to own the Test arena as he has done so often domestically and in Super Rugby.
The Lions factor is the cause of my optimism, but I can only imagine Jaco Kriel’s injury woes have not sufficiently settled. Otherwise why leave him out?
It’s a squad representative of form but it’s also one that has question marks around the loose trio make up and also the back three, as a unit.
The tight five is strong and Coetzee has selected wisely in the front row and among his starting locks. Whiteley, as captain, was always going to be the No 8 but there will be debate as to whether the loose-trio, as a combination, is potent or merely present.
Individually the loose-forwards are all good players but it’s an untried combination.
The same applies to the back three and all three players selected have warranted inclusion on Super Rugby form, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll prove good enough at Test level.
I sincerely hope the side can gel and can excite the South African public with a winning start and one that is easy on the eye.
Springboks’ assistant coach Johann van Graan earlier in the week cautioned not to expect a perfect Bok performance. Relax Johann, there never is a perfect performance but the public will be demanding a winning one.
The Boks are at home in Pretoria. That has to be worth five points. The cohesion and familiarity of those Lions players has to be worth another five points and the second half impact of veterans Francois Hougaard and (Frans) Steyn is also another three points.
There it is then, the Boks to win by 13 points.