Jon Cardinelli

Boks caught in two minds

Warrick Gelant made his Test debut against Italy Warrick Gelant made his Test debut against Italy

Warrick Gelant looks set to start, but the make-up of the Springbok back row and indeed the approach for the clash against Wales appear less clear, writes JON CARDINELLI in Cardiff.

On Monday morning, Allister Coetzee suggested that there would be few changes – and certainly no unforced changes – for the fourth and final tour clash against Wales. Later that day, Gelant could be seen training on the left wing in place of Courtnall Skosan.

Over the past two years, there has been little consistency in terms of what Coetzee has said in a press conference and what he has done through his selections and strategies. With that in mind, it wasn’t really a surprise to see Gelant training with the de facto starting side at the Cardiff Arms Park.

Gelant's selection at wing would highlight the poor planning of the management team, though. SA Rugby emphasised the shortage of caps in the back division when it released a statement on the 34-man touring group last month. It also said that Andries Coetzee and Gelant had been selected as the only specialist fullbacks in the squad.

Yet here we are, into the fourth week of the tour, and it appears as if only one fullback will be utilised. Andries Coetzee looks likely to start for the 13th time this year.

The Bok coach has been reluctant to make changes to his back three this season, despite the patent limitations of individuals and the combination as a whole. Raymond Rhule was backed until his defensive form took a dive from poor to embarrassing in the match against the All Blacks in Albany.

Up to now, though, only four players have started in those three positions, and no one other than Coetzee at No 15. So much for development.

On Tuesday, Matt Proudfoot told reporters in Cardiff that Siya Kolisi, Uzair Cassiem and Dan du Preez made for a fine loose-trio combination. Du Preez could win his first start this Saturday.

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Seven days earlier in Padua, Proudfoot spoke at length about the options a blindside flank like Pieter-Steph du Toit could offer the Boks at the gainline and lineout. He mentioned Du Toit in the same breath as one of the greats, Juan Smith.

Du Toit went into this tour as the first-choice No 7. It wouldn’t make sense to play him from the bench in the final game of the year, especially in a match the Boks desperately need to win.

The Boks will miss Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw at the breakdown. Wales will be proficient in that area, even though Sam Warburton is unavailable. With Vermeulen and Louw back at their respective clubs, the Boks won’t field a loose forward who specialises in playing to the ball.

Malcolm Marx will have to shoulder a bigger load in this regard. The hooker has come through training without complaint, and looks set to resume his role at No 2. Beast Mtawarira didn’t train earlier in the week, and is likely to be replaced by Steven Kitshoff.

Thomas du Toit joined the team in Cardiff on Monday, and was present for the first training session at Cardiff Arms Park. However, given Du Toit’s late arrival and Coetzee’s comments about Trevor Nyakane offering a good alternative loosehead option, the latter could be backed in the No 17 shirt.

Ruan Dreyer may get his first opportunity from the bench on this tour. Now that Franco Mostert has linked up with his Japanese club, Ruan Botha could be promoted to the reserves. Botha will win his first cap if he makes it on to the field.

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Rudy Paige must be wondering what he needs to do to get a start this season. Like Andries Coetzee, scrumhalf Ross Cronjé hasn’t exactly set the Test stage alight.

The management of Lukhanyo Am has left a lot to be desired. He was the form No 13 in South Africa throughout the Super Rugby tournament, and would have featured in the series against France in June if not for an injury. Why hasn’t he featured on this tour yet, even from the bench?

Again, one has to question the Bok coach’s faith in outside centre Jesse Kriel, just as one has to question the ongoing selections of Coetzee and Cronjé. At the very least Am deserves an opportunity from the bench against Wales this Saturday.

Am is a stronger defender than both Kriel and Damian de Allende – who will also be a contender for the No 23 jersey – and the Boks will need all the stopping power and breakdown smarts that they can get against a team like Wales.

Probable Springboks – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Warrick Gelant, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit/Uzair Cassiem, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Uzair Cassiem/Oupa Mohoje, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian de Allende/Lukhanyo Am.

Photo: Gabriele Maltinti/Gallo Images

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