Craig Lewis

Can Venter solve midfield woes?

Francois Venter on the run Francois Venter on the run

Francois Venter’s domestic form for the Currie Cup-winning Cheetahs has seen him complete a remarkable ascension to start in one of the Springboks’ biggest Tests of the year, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Throughout the Rugby Championship, and particularly the June series against Ireland, Venter was hardly on the Bok radar. At the time, widespread pundit calls continued for the inclusion of Lions star Rohan Janse van Rensburg.

However, Janse van Rensburg still has to wait for his turn. His form against the Barbarians last weekend once again underlined his class as he emerged as the Boks’ best performer on the day, but Allister Coetzee has once again stuck with Damian de Allende to start at 12 against England this Saturday.

Janse van Rensburg's impact against the Baa-Baas, and an injury to Jesse Kriel, will see him remain with the Bok squad for the three upcoming Tests against England, Italy and Wales, but it’s Venter who has suddenly won promotion to the starting lineup ahead of Lionel Mapoe.

Venter has been a solid performer throughout the year for the Cheetahs, and it’s his accuracy on defence and hard running lines that the Boks will be looking to benefit from against England this Saturday.

Although the 25-year-old endured an injury-disrupted Currie Cup season (playing a total of just 380 minutes), his stats are impressive.

Venter was one of the top-ranked players for clean breaks (six), try assists (five) and turnovers won (six), while he also made 337 running metres and 42 carries. On defence, he played an important role as an organiser, while completing 51 tackles (missing just six).

Although Venter should add solidity to the Bok backline at 13, the fact remains that the Boks have now once again turned to a midfield combination that has never played together before.

As was pointed out midway through the Rugby Championship, the Boks have used 22 different centre combinations since 2010, while that number has now been extended to 24.

Coetzee backed De Allende and Lionel Mapoe to start in the first five Tests of the year, but with that combination failing to fire, he then turned to Juan de Jongh and Kriel to slot in as a new-look midfield pairing.

However, an injury to Kriel then forced another reshuffle as De Allende and De Jongh paired up for the final Rugby Championship Test, while De Allende will now combine with a third new midfield partner this year in Venter.

There is no doubt that the latter is deserving of his call-up, but again it’s clear that the Boks’ search for a settled and successful midfield pairing continues.

Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images

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