The injury-enforced absence of Warren Whiteley, as well as the omission of Ruan Combrinck, Frans Steyn and Lukhanyo Am could cost the Springboks dearly in the Rugby Championship, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The 34-man Bok squad for the Rugby Championship was announced after the Super Rugby final on Saturday. Much was made about the new faces in the squad. Not enough was made about those who didn’t make the cut.
The Boks hammered France 3-0 in the Test series in June. The quality of the set-piece and breakdown performances was of a high standard. The finishing was good and overall the defence was accurate and aggressive.
That said, the decision to persist with an inexperienced back-three combination for the duration of the series was rightly questioned. The decision to favour players of modest dimensions (and only one with a kicking game) at the back was scrutinised, as was the individual defence of Raymond Rhule, who missed the most tackles across the series.
Argentina, Australia and New Zealand will demand more of the Boks in the coming Rugby Championship. France came to South Africa on the back of a long and taxing northern hemisphere season. While they were outplayed by the Boks up front, they rarely sought to expose the inexperience of that back division with an accurate tactical performance. Indeed, they didn't kick much at all.
Andries Coetzee, Rhule and Courtnall Skosan will be marked men in the Rugby Championship. So too Dillyn Leyds, who was once again exposed in the recent Super Rugby quarter-final against the Chiefs.
Bulls fullback Warrick Gelant has been brought into the squad. One wonders why Combrinck, who featured prominently in the squad last year and has the bulk, the tactical-kicking game, and the attacking strengths to be a success at Test level, was overlooked.
There's even more cause for concern when one casts an eye over the midfield selections. Jan Serfontein was one of the standouts in the June series. Jesse Kriel had his moments. Allister Coetzee has missed an opportunity to strengthen the squad, though, by omitting Frans Steyn and Lukhanyo Am.
Damian de Allende and Francois Venter have had their issues on defence at both Super Rugby and Test level. One struggles to see how De Allende will offer more than Steyn, a World Cup winner with a proven defensive and kicking game. Rohan Janse van Rensburg must also be wondering what he did wrong, apart from suffering an injury that robbed him of a chance to play regularly in this year's Super Rugby tournament.
It’s been said that Steyn needed a break after a long season in France. Surely it would have made more sense to rest Steyn for the three-Test series against France in June? Surely you would want a player like that available for the more demanding games against the Wallabies and the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship?
Am was one of the best South African players on show in the recent Super Rugby tournament. His physical presence at the breakdown, his excellent decision-making on defence, as well as his accurate kicking game would be an asset to any team. This is the kind of player that Coetzee should be investing in with a view to the 2019 World Cup.
The decision to include Curwin Bosch in the Rugby Championship at this stage, especially as a flyhalf, is a risk. One would hope that Elton Jantjies and Handré Pollard remain fit over the course of the tournament so that the 20-year-old is not forced to start against the likes of the All Blacks. Going by his Super Rugby performances, Bosch may struggle to man that flyhalf channel on defence.
Perhaps it would have been better to ease Bosch into the set-up as a fullback. Perhaps Coetzee should have picked Bosch ahead of Gelant and then included someone like JP Pietersen or Combrinck to lend the back division a more balanced and experienced look.
Including Steyn in the squad would have given the Boks a further flyhalf option. Steyn was listed as the official back-up to Jantjies in the recent series against France.
Coetzee said that the Boks will miss Whiteley, who led the team in the first two games against France before succumbing to a serious injury. Whiteley is likely to miss the Rugby Championship. The Boks will also be without Duane Vermeulen, who is also battling his own injury.
Dan du Preez has been brought into the squad for the first time. The Sharks No 8 may be rushed straight into the starting side.
A look at the loose-forward group suggests that the Boks have no real alternative in that position, unless Dan’s twin brother, Jean-Luc, wears the No 8 jersey as he did in the third Test against France. Either way, the Boks will miss the likes of Whiteley and Vermeulen at the back of the lineout.
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