JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa will seek to maintain the feel-good factor that has returned to their rugby in the third test against France on Saturday, knowing that tougher challenges lie ahead this season.
History beckons for the team with a win at Ellis Park, where they have lost all four previous tests against the touring French but can now sweep a three-match series against their European opponents for the first time.
A sense of optimism has returned to the team after a disastrous 2016 in which they lost eight of their 12 tests, including historic defeats to Ireland, Italy and Argentina.
It is with that in mind that Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has again made minimal changes to his side, preferring continuity over the temptation to give a number of fringe players a run after two convincing wins so far.
Jesse Kriel returns at outside centre after sitting out the 37-15 victory in the second test in Durban because of concussion, while Francois Hougaard and Jean-Luc du Preez come in as injury replacements for Ross Cronje and Opua Mohoje.
Coetzee has handed a first start to prop Ruan Dreyer in the place of Frans Malherbe, his one attempt at tinkering.
The Bok coach says he expects another physical battle, especially as the French have maintained their forward pack that at times gave the home side a battering in Durban.
“This is their last match of the season and they will be highly motivated to finish on a high, so they will yet again pose a serious threat,” Coetzee said. “We will have to work extremely hard against a very physical French side who will again test us in all departments.”
France coach Guy Noves has made just three changes to his backline, including a recall to the flyhalf position for Jules Plisson.
Other changes see Brice Dulin come in for South African-born Scott Spedding at fullback and Nans Ducuing get a first test start ahead of Yoann Huget on the wing.
“Three changes seemed right to us, we have had two tests to evaluate the players’ mindset,” Noves said on Thursday.
“We’ve got nothing to lose in the sense that what we have to do is defend the jersey. I felt there was a lot of progress from one test to the next. Admittedly the first game was so poor, that wasn’t difficult.
“The progress is real, I know it. Commitment is the minimum when we put on the jersey.”
Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Gareth Jones