For most South Africans, Allister Coetzee was the focal figure amid the Springboks' nadir. If rage was vented it came in his direction.

Four wins from 12 tests was unheard of in the rugby-mad Republic but that's the grim reality of what the Boks dished up last year. The fallout was ugly, and the public wanted Coetzee gone.

Eventually, the former Stormers mentor emerged out the other side with a significantly bolstered management team that includes the experienced Brendan Venter alongside him.

The rebuild job is well underway following five wins and a draw last week against the Wallabies.


All of a sudden the mood around the Boks has dramatically changed but Coetzee's third test against the All Blacks - the two previous combining for a 98-28 scoreline - will reveal much more about this young Boks side which has only 300 test caps - 93 in the backline.

To date you certainly wouldn't call Coetzee's 18-month tenure an enjoyable ride. He openly admits it has been the most testing of his coaching career.

"It has been - it has been bloody challenging," he said after making three changes to his starting team. "Coaching at international level, especially with rugby mad countries and supporters that we have, and to manage the mood of millions of people is never an easy job.

"I'm pleased we have changed it in a way. We made a few tweaks at the beginning of the year. We were a team in transition and the players have now started to enjoy the game so the environment is really healthy.

"Our players have never been in better conditioning shape than they are at the moment.

"I'm pleased with where we are as a team but we're not there yet. We'll test ourselves against the world's best on Saturday."

The Boks who take the field in Albany will barely resembled the team the All Blacks flogged 57-15 in Durban in their last meeting, with veteran prop Tendai Mtawarira and stand-in captain Eben Etzebeth the only starting survivors.

Lions lock Franco Mostert has been recalled after a week off, while flanker Jean-Luc du Preez and rookie prop Ruan Dreyer gain promotion as injury replacements.

"We've buried 2016 as deep as possible. We've moved on. It's a completely different team environment and individuals in terms of why they are Springboks and what they represent. The mindset is completely different."

Still, Hurricanes assistant coach John Plumtree, in a column for SA Rugby Magazine, is just one to question whether the Boks defence which tends to give up too much space can shut down the All Blacks for 80 minutes, particularly after losing flanker Jaco Kriel and tighthead prop Coenie Oosthuizen, two of their best defensive players.

"The challenge will be different altogether in terms of defence. This week will be a gain-line battle; how quickly you can get off the line and adjust.

"The big thing about the game is how you utilise the space. Normally your scrum gives you a good platform to do that. The All Blacks are definitely a momentum based team and once they get behind you it's about resetting and getting the dominance back. We cannot give them anything on a platter."

The Boks haven't beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand for eight years and that weight of history alone is plenty for this inexperienced team to carry.

"There's nothing we can do about that but this is another opportunity. You can't hope to win a game you've got to go out and do it and the players realise that."

Pull off an unlikely upset and the perception of Coetzee would really come full circle.

Springboks team:

Andries Coetzee, Raymond Rhule, Jesse Kriel, Jan Serfontein, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje, Uzair Cassiem, Jean-Luc du Preez, Siya Kolisi, Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Tendai Mtawarira.

Reserves: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Trevor Nyakane, Lood de Jager, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Francois Hougaard, Handré Pollard, Damian de Allende