PRETORIA – South Africa coach Allister Coetzee is seeing a huge difference in the attitude and application of his squad ahead of the first test of the international season against France at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Coetzee oversaw the worst year in Springbok history in 2016 when they lost eight of their 12 tests, including a first defeat by Italy and a humiliating 57-15 record home loss to New Zealand.
But he believes preparation for this campaign has been better and he now has the right management team around him with the addition of Brendan Venter as defence coach.
“There is a massive difference from last year. I don’t want to go back into last year because that is dead and buried,” Coetzee told reporters on Monday.
“But I had to make sure we will be better off in terms of our management team and I’m happy with the team that we have.
“I’m also happy that we negotiated (three) training camps (during the Super Rugby season), so compared to last year it is a completely different process. That’s why I can be a bit more excited about where we are taking the team.
“Last year I also didn’t know where I sat with the overseas players, but now know how many will be in the squad. There is better unity in the team and greater understanding of what it means to be a Springbok.”
One of those players, Toulon number eight Duane Vermeulen, will definitely be missing from the Saturday’s test and possibly the entire three-match series.
“Duane won’t be available for this weekend after he picked up a shoulder injury (in the Top 14 final against Clermont on Sunday). It’s probably an AC (acromioclavicular joint) and it is severe, but we will wait until he arrives tomorrow and our doctor will take him for tests.
Centre Damien de Allende is also out with a thigh injury while fellow back Lionel Mapoe is doubtful with a hamstring strain.
Coetzee also played down the notion that a France side missing a number of key players will struggle.
“One thing about the French, if you don’t respect them you can find yourself punished. They have been the most improved side in the Six Nations,” he said.
“Hopefully, we can get a good start because that’s what this team needs, just a bit of confidence.”