Back row boasts World Cup flavour

A convincing performance against the Wallabies will strengthen Schalk Burger and Marcell Coetzee’s claims for World Cup selection, writes JON CARDINELLI.

Francois Louw, Coetzee and Burger will start against the Wallabies in Brisbane this Saturday. It's not the best Springbok back row, but it's the best available to Heyneke Meyer at this point.

This could be the starting back row for the World Cup in England. First choice No 8 Duane Vermeulen (neck) and blindside flank Willem Alberts (ankle) are battling with injuries, and it's feared both will miss the global tournament. Ideally, Meyer would start Louw, Alberts and Vermeulen in the big World Cup games.

This year’s Rugby Championship was always going to present Meyer with an opportunity to experiment. While the South African rugby community will hope that Vermeulen in particular recovers, the injuries to Vermeulen and Alberts have forced Meyer to explore other options. There is, of course, a chance Vermeulen and Alberts will break down at the tournament itself, and so other players must be ready to fill the gap.

While Coetzee has done well for the Sharks and Boks over the past four years, he hasn't convinced as a specialist openside or blindside. Coetzee started his career at No 6 in that 2012 series against England. He impressed when asked to fill in at blindside against Argentina last year.

Meyer has selected Heinrich Brüssow in his greater squad as openside cover for Francois Louw. It's felt that Coetzee has not progressed sufficiently as a No 6 over the past four years to be considered for such an important role at this year’s World Cup, which will be staged in northern hemisphere conditions.

Last week, Meyer lamented the absence of both Vermeulen and Alberts, two big bodies who lend the Boks impetus on attack and stopping power on defence. The inference was that the Boks have few other players in the same mould. Coetzee can't dominate the gainline to the same degree.

It would have been interesting to see what Meyer would have done had Vermeulen been fit. Burger may very well have been given another starting opportunity at blindside flank, a position in which he excelled last year. Burger wore the No 7 jersey when the Boks played England at Twickenham last November. His Man of the Match showing went a long towards securing a 31-28 victory.

Burger can play in all three loose-forward positions, and will add value to the World Cup squad. It’s great to see him getting an opportunity at No 8 this Saturday. It’s a position he doesn’t often play for the Stormers given the franchise has Vermeulen and Nizaam Carr at their disposal.

Burger will want to prove a point: that he can make as big an impact at No 8 as he can at No 7. For Coetzee, the pressure is on to show that he can give the Boks a physical edge at blindside flank. Both will have a great chance to do so, considering they will be playing behind the Boks’ best tight-five combination.

The speed and intensity of this game will be significantly greater than was the case when the Boks hosted the World XV last week. Coetzee received plaudits in the aftermath, but he and the Boks will know that a truer test of power and mettle waits in Brisbane.

Warren Whiteley is the man to miss out after starting at No 8 last week. Some may view this as harsh, but Meyer needs to see what Burger can offer in the position sooner rather than later. What counts against Whiteley is that he cannot cover more than one position. This may also count against him when the World Cup squad is eventually named on 28 August.

Traditionally, a coach will take a group of five loose forwards to a World Cup, and there is usually one player who can cover both blindside flank and No 5. Perhaps this is why Oupa Mohoje has been included on the bench for the second week in succession.

Last week, Meyer and stand-in captain Victor Matfield both confirmed that they are trying to develop Mohoje into a utility forward. It will be interesting, however, to see if Mohoje is used at all in the second row over the next two games.

The Wallabies and All Blacks will ask more questions of the Bok lineout, and it would be a bold move to replace Matfield with Mohoje during the second half of these contests. And yet if Meyer really intends to make the most of these games before the World Cup, it’s a gamble he needs to take.

Springbok team to play Wallabies

Photo: Ryan Wilisky/BackpagePix

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