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Jon Cardinelli

‘Coenie’s good enough to start’


Coenie Oosthuizen could start at tighthead against France Coenie Oosthuizen could start at tighthead against France

Springbok assistant coach Johann van Graan and scrum consultant Pieter de Villiers have given tighthead Coenie Oosthuizen a vote of confidence, reports JON CARDINELLI in Paris.

Following the Currie Cup final, Jannie du Plessis was ruled out of the tour to Europe because of injury. This forced Bok coach Heyneke Meyer to select two uncapped tightheads in Frans Mallherbe and Lourens Adriaandse, as well as Oosthuizen, a player who is still coming to grips with the position after shifting from No 1 to No 3 in early 2012.

That Meyer backed Malherbe over Oosthuizen on this tour to Europe was a statement in itself. Meyer believes that Oosthuizen has a great future as a tighthead, but that his transition to that position is a process that cannot be rushed. As the Bok coach said in the build-up to the game against Wales, Oosthuizen is at best an impact player at this stage of his development.

MALHERBE INJURY FORCES MEYER'S HAND

That perception has been challenged by Oosthuizen's fine performance against Scotland following Malherbe's tour-ending rib injury. It has also been challenged by Meyer's assistant coaches.

They won't have a final say on selection, but what they said on Tuesday suggests that Meyer may revise his stance on Oosthuizen, even if it is for this one match.

'Coenie is good enough to start,' said Van Graan, who works with the forwards. 'He was great last Sunday, and that was the longest he's played in that tighthead role. He made 15 tackles in those 46 minutes and scored a try.'

De Villiers, who has worked with the Boks and Oosthuizen since the decision was first taken to shift the promising player from loosehead to tighthead in early 2012, agrees the time is right for Oosthuizen to start.

'Scrumming-wise, Coenie has grown a lot technically,' said De Villiers. 'We've got a lot of confidence in Coenie, just as we do in Lourens. It is a good position for Heyneke to be in. We have faith in our systems, and that a player like Coenie will do well in those systems.'

Both De Villiers and Van Graan have been pleased with the Bok scrum's progress over the past 12 months. Synergy has been the real key to success, rather than the display of any outstanding individual.

Conditions on this tour have, however, impacted on the Boks' consistency. The crumbling pitch at the Millennium Stadium made a fair scrummaging contest close to impossible, as did a similarly deteriorating field in Edinburgh.

A UNIQUE BATTLE

The turf at the Stade de France should be in better nick, but as De Villiers confirms, a battle against Les Bleus is always a unique challenge. And he should know. While he is a proud South African, the former prop represented France in 69 Tests between 1999 and 2007.

'France have proved that they have one of the best scrums in the world,' he said. 'They've given away the least penalties and earned the most. It's a big contest for us, which is great because we've been working so hard in that area. It's great to end the tour against a good scrummaging side, because we can see where we stand.

'France are always highly motivated when they play the best teams in the world, and New Zealand and South Africa tend to bring the best out of them,' De Villiers added. 'They value the set piece and physical confrontation. We're looking forward to that battle.'

Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

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