Boks to get Lions' spine?
OPINION: Has Springbok Allister Coetzee evolved enough to ensure he won't repeat the errors of 2016? Jan de Koning reports.
Last year Allister Coetzee appeared to be reluctant to rely too heavily on the country's most successful team.
This year the spine of the Springbok coach may consist almost entirely of Lions players - by some distance the most consistent and successful franchise in the country.
South Africa will host France at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday in the first of three Tests.
Coetzee will name his team for the first Test in Pretoria on Thursday.
By all accounts he is likely to have a substantial higher number of Lions starting this year.
On June 11 last year, only two Lions - centre Lionel Mapoe and scrumhalf Francois de Klerk - started in the 20-26 loss to Ireland at Newlands.
Prop Julian Redelinghuys, No.8 Warren Whiteley and flyhalf Elton Jantjies were named on the bench.
More than half the starting XV may consist of Lions this year - because the Lions' spine has been so effective.
Any half-decent pundit will know the most vital aspect of team selection is to get the spine right - hooker, lock, No.8, scrumhalf, flyhalf and fullback.
Only then do you add the 'meat' of the team.
It is something Coetzee got badly wrong in 2016.
In the opening Test of 2016 his spine consisted of Adriaan Strauss, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen, Francois de Klerk, Patrick Lambie and Willie le Roux.
Only one member of that spine is a certain starter for Saturday - Etzebeth.
Indications are that Saturday's Bok spine will look like this: Malcolm Marx, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Warren Whiteley (captain), Ross Cronje, Elton Jantjies and Andries Coetzee.
With the exception of Lambie, sidelined with concussion, and Vermeulen (who will be moved to the flank and will also arrive too late to feature in this week's Test anyway), the rest of the changes to the spine are based on form.
With Courtnall Skosan on the shortlist for one of the two wing positions, the Lions could have eight players starting on Saturday - four times as many as 2016.
Of course, this is speculation only and Coetzee may produce a few bolters.
However, indications are that Coetzee are beginning to listen more to his support staff - which include Brendan Venter and Franco Smith - and he will select more on form.
By Jan de Koning, at the Springbok camp in Pretoria