Jon Cardinelli

Wilco, Duane set to start

Springbok No 8 Duane Vermeulen Springbok No 8 Duane Vermeulen

At least two personnel changes are expected ahead of the must-win clash against France this Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI in Paris.

The Boks trained out at Saut du Laup on Monday afternoon in bitterly cold conditions. Pieter-Steph du Toit watched the session from the sideline, as did fellow loose forward Siya Kolisi.

Du Toit has already been ruled out due to a concussion sustained in the previous Test against Ireland. The lock-cum-flanker will not be available for the game against France this week. Kolisi, however, was rested as a precaution on Monday and is expected to take his place at No 6 at the Stade de France on Saturday.

The upshot is that Allister Coetzee will make further back-row changes ahead of the game against France. Kolisi and Francois Louw will pack down on the flanks, while Duane Vermeulen – who rejoined the squad on Monday night following the confirmation of Du Toit’s injury – should go straight back into the starting line-up at No 8.

ALSO READ: Vermeulen called up by Boks

Vermeulen looks set for his first Test since the second game against Ireland last year. The 37-Test loose forward missed the bulk of the 2016 season due to injuries, and was a late withdrawal from the 2017 home series against France after taking another knock in the Top 14 final.

Why Vermeulen was not involved ahead of the Ireland match last week is anyone’s guess. The Boks could certainly have used his defensive, mauling and breakdown expertise in a showdown with a pragmatic yet precise Ireland side.

Tighthead Coenie Oosthuizen has been ruled out for the rest of the tour. Coetzee has declared himself happy with the front-row stocks, though. Wilco Louw, who replaced Oosthuizen following the starting No 3’s knee injury, is the favourite to front the French. Ruan Dreyer should come on to the bench while Trevor Nyakane – the swing prop in the squad – will provide further backup in the squad.

The forwards were poor in Dublin last week. That said, the backline’s execution was nothing short of shocking. Coetzee will surely look to make a couple of changes in that department ahead of the must-win game against France.

On Saturday, Coetzee criticised the team for its failure to implement the plan and take good options. The Bok coach reiterated these points when addressing the media in Paris on Monday.

Coetzee backed Elton Jantjies to start against Ireland despite the flyhalf's limited time with the side in the build-up. On Monday, Handré Pollard was looking sharp in training and it wouldn’t surprise to see him getting a starting opportunity – his first since the 2015 World Cup playoffs – at the Stade de France.

Pollard has played alongside Damian de Allende at Test level before. That said, given the latter’s woeful showing against Ireland, both in terms of effort and execution, Coetzee may be tempted to push someone else into that position. Francois Venter made his debut at No 13 in 2016, but may yet feature at inside centre on this tour.

Ireland exposed the Boks’ inexperienced back-three to a telling degree this past Saturday. The frightening truth is that the Boks have little experience in reserve – Raymond Rhule only made his Test debut this June and has proved to be a defensive and high-ball liability. Coetzee looks set to stick with the same back-three combination for the clash at the Stade de France.

Why? Because there is no-one else. South African rugby’s back-three cupboard is bare as far as experience is concerned.

Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images

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