European Tour Springboks in search of Barbarians respite

The Springboks begin their European tour with a match against the invitational side at London's Wembley Stadium.

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The Springboks begin their European tour with a match against an invitational Barbarians side at London's Wembley Stadium having endured one of their toughest years in the professional era play

The Springboks begin their European tour with a match against an invitational Barbarians side at London's Wembley Stadium having endured one of their toughest years in the professional era

(AFP/File)
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Matches against the Barbarians are meant to be fun encounters and games where players on both sides can take a few more chances than they might in the intense atmosphere of a full international.

But try telling that to South Africa right now.

The Springboks begin their European tour with a match against the invitational side at London's Wembley Stadium on Saturday having endured one of their toughest years in the professional era.

They have lost five of their last nine matches, a run that includes defeats by Argentina and Ireland and, most recently, a record 57-15 thrashing by New Zealand in Durban last month.

For fans of the Springboks, whose side have traditionally challenged the All Blacks for global rugby union supremacy, that last result was tough to take.

What made it all the worse was that it was only just over a year ago when South Africa came within two points of eventual champions New Zealand in a gripping World Cup semi-final at Twickenham.

New coach Allister Coetzee, who took over from Heyneke Meyer following the World Cup, has born the brunt of the criticism over both his team selections and tactics, with leading South African rugby journalist Mark Keohane calling his Springbok side a "disgrace to the jersey".

In that sort of atmosphere whether even a revamped Springbok side, with several first-choice players omitted ahead of next weekend's full international against England at Wembley, can play with the 'handbrake' off and in the style expected of a Barbarians match remains to be seen.

South African Morne Steyn (L) clears the ball during the test match against Australia at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Pretoria play

South African Morne Steyn (L) clears the ball during the test match against Australia at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Pretoria

(AFP/File)

There are nine uncapped players in the matchday 23, with wings Sergeal Petersen and Jamba Ulengo, centres Francois Venter and Rohan Janse van Rensburg, flanker Roelof Smit and lock RG Snyman all in the starting XV.

Only three forwards last month's Durban debacle -- flanker Oupa Mohoje, lock Pieter-Steph du Toit and prop Tendai Mtawarira have been retained.

Fly-half Patrick Lambie, captaining the side in the absence of the rested Adriaan Strauss, forms a new half-back pairing with scrum-half Rudy Paige.

Boks against Boks

Jesse Kriel, who impressed as a centre during South Africa's run to the World Cup semi-finals, makes his first Springbok start at fullback.

"The Barbarians play an attacking, adventurous style of rugby and it will be a real test for our young side," said Coetzee.

"They have an excellent, world-renowned coach in Robbie Deans, exciting young players in their side, including some South Africans," he added of a Barbarians side where Stormers fly-half Robert du Preez, Lions hooker Akker van der Merwe, Hurricanes prop Reggie Goodes and Lions lock Martin Muller will all be looking to star against their compatriots.

"It will be a really big occasion for our young players, but we're excited to be giving them an opportunity."

Andy Ellis, a member of New Zealand's 2011 World Cup-winning squad, will captain the Barbarians.

Ellis also played for the Barbarians team that beat South Africa 26-20 in 20 to put the team team 4-3 up in their head-to-head matches against the Springboks.

"It was a pretty special moment beating South Africa last time," said Ellis.

And while many have questioned the worth of Barbarians fixtures in modern-day rugby union, scrum-half Ellis was in no doubt of their enduring value.

"It's a beautiful thing," he explained. "You make friendships. I'm still in touch with the guys I played with in 2010."

He added: "This new team has come together, we're getting on well and we're having fun and now it's just about fronting up and making sure we perform at the weekend."

"Boks taking on the Boks helps. They'll certainly want to prove themselves."

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