Coetzee seeks redemption with Lion-hearted Boks

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Johannesburg (AFP) - South Africa coach Allister Coetzee is banking on a lot of Lion-hearted stars as he plots the first step toward redemption after a catastrophic maiden season in charge.

The Springboks face France Saturday at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria in the first of three Tests with a line-up that acknowledges the prowess of the Golden Lions.

Lions were Super Rugby runners-up last year and, as the only genuine non-New Zealand title contenders, are on course to make the final again this year.

Coetzee shunned by far the best provincial team in South Africa last year, choosing just two Lions for the first international of the season, a first home loss to Ireland.

It proved to be the first defeat of eight -- an unwanted calender-year record for the Springboks that triggered sustained public and media calls for Coetzee to be fired.

The coach escaped the axe partly because his four-year contract did not have a performance clause covering the first season. It does for the second season.

While Coetzee insists he is going nowhere, a 3-0 series loss to France would probably leave South African officials with no option but to dismiss him.

For France, the coach has had a change of heart from last season with skipper and No 8 Warren Whiteley, the successor to retired Adriaan Strauss, one of seven Lions in the run-on team.

Three of the four new caps, full-back Andries Coetzee, winger Courtnall Skosan and scrum-half Ross Cronje, are Lions.

So are fly-half Elton Jantjies, hooker Malcolm Marx and Franco Mostert, a surprise choice at lock ahead of 2016 regular Pieter-Steph du Toit.

While most South African Super Rubby sides have struggled to transform from a kick-and-chase to ball-in-hand style, the Lions have been running the ball for years.

But a Lions-stacked Springboks side does not mean the team will attempt to imitate the Johannesburg outfit.

Springbok and Lions flanker Jaco Kriel, part of the squad for the France series, stresses that the style of his provincial team took years to develop.

"It is not a cut-and-paste style that can be passed from one team to another," he stressed.

"Our playing pattern works for us because we have been developing it for nearly five years. It took a lot of time and effort."

South African supporters, furious at the national team losing seven of the last eight Tests in 2016, will care less about what style is deployed than getting back on the winning trail.

Despite the loss for the series of France-based loose forward Duane Vermeulen, injured in the French Top 14 final last Sunday, Coetzee waxed lyrical about his back row.

"I am excited about our loose trio combination," he told reporters after naming his starting line-up.

"Siya Kolisi has played at openside for the Springboks and the Western Stormers and I know he will be able to do the job for us.

"Oupa Mohoje has good ball-carrying abilities, he is an excellent lineout option, and I think the combination will complement each other.

"On the bench, we have a young and exciting player in Jean-Luc du Preez, whom I am sure will make a big impact."

Coetzee rates France, who finished third in the Six Nations Championship, the "most improved Test team in the world".

The last French international was a 20-18 victory over Wales and only five of the team that started in Paris run on in Pretoria.

Skipper and lock Yoann Maestri, full-back Brice Dulin, centre Gael Fickou, winger Virimi Vakatawa and loose forward Louis Picamoles are the survivors.

Those not playing include fly-half Camille Lopez, leading scorer in the Six Nations Championship with 67 points. Regular scrum-half Baptiste Serin is on the bench in Pretoria.

Their places go to fly-half Jules Plisson and scrum-half Maxime Machenaud with coach Guy Noves saying he wants to give as many of his squad as possible game time.