Twelve months after South Africa suffered their worst defeat on home soil, confidence has been restored with coach Allister Coetzee keen to write a new chapter against the All Blacks on Saturday.
“The big thing is to make sure you put yourself in a position to get (the result) and we’ve really worked hard for this one,” he said Thursday ahead of the fourth-round Rugby Championship clash in Auckland.
Coetzee took over the Springboks after they narrowly lost to the All Blacks in the 2015 World Cup semi-finals and in his first year at the helm they lost eight of 12 Tests, including a 57-15 rout by New Zealand in Durban.
A year on from that record defeat, only Eben Etzebeth and Tendai Mtawarira remain in the starting line, and Coetzee’s Springboks are on a six-match unbeaten run with five wins and a draw in 2017.
“We’ve really buried 2016 as deep as possible and we’ve moved on,” Coetzee said.
“There’s not even a handful of those guys from last year. It’s a completely different team environment, different individuals and the game, in terms of why they are Springboks and what they represent, the mindset is completely different.”
However, the 54-year-old said that after wins over France and Argentina this year, and coming off a draw against Australia last week, their performance against the All Blacks would serve as a barometer to show how significant the improvement had been.
The All Blacks have played seven Tests this year with five wins, one draw and one defeat, and while coach Steve Hansen said they were “uncomfortable” with their performance, Coetzee was happy with how the Springboks were going.
“I’m pleased with where we are as a team. We’re not there yet. We’ll test ourselves against the world’s best, the number one, the unbelievable All Blacks side,” he said.
– New opportunities –
Coetzee has made three changes to the run-on side to face New Zealand.
Flanker Jean-Luc du Preez and prop Ruan Dreyer come in for Jaco Kriel and Coenie Oosthuizen who were both hurt in last week’s nail-biting 23-23 draw against the Wallabies in Perth.
Lock Franco Mostert, who was rested against Australia, returns with Pieter-Steph du Toit relegated to the bench.
It has been five years since the Springboks last won in New Zealand but Coetzee was not interested in talking about history.
“There’s nothing you can do about that but you always look at new opportunities and we’re excited about Saturday,” he said.
“I think this week will be a gainline battle. It’s how quickly you can get off the line and adjust and make sure you make good decisions and win that gainline battle.
“We all know it’s going to be physical. That’s one thing the All Blacks know when they play South Africa and we also know. It’s going to b e very physical. It’s going to be contests all over — the breakdown, set piece, aerial bombardment.”
Since 2000, New Zealand have dominated clashes between the arch rivals, winning 29 of 39 matches.
Prior to 2000, the All Blacks had won 26, lost 25 and drawn three of 54 matches.