The balance of the back row and that of the halfback pairing will be key when the Springboks tackle a more settled and intelligent Ireland side on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI in Dublin.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt looks set to name a loose trio comprising three British & Irish Lions players. Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and CJ Stander are expected to front the Boks at the Aviva Stadium.
Coetzee looks set to pick Beast Mtawarira ahead of Steven Kitshoff at loosehead prop. Mtawarira missed the recent clash against the All Blacks at Newlands due to personal reasons.
Other than that, Coetzee could stick with the four members of the tight five that excelled against a much-fancied All Blacks side at the set pieces. The coach could spring a surprise, though, by favouring Wilco Louw ahead of Ruan Dreyer.
On Tuesday, assistant coach Matt Proudfoot highlighted the importance of the scrum battle. The Boks are equally wary of Ireland’s lineout prowess. Nobody has forgotten about the hosts’ innovative and penetrative performance from this set piece when the two sides met in Dublin back in 2014.
The Boks have reason to believe that they can meet Ireland’s set-piece challenge. Whether they have the individuals and the combination to boss the breakdowns and control the gainline remains to be seen.
Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit packed down on the flanks at Newlands last month. Due to the unavailability of Warren Whiteley, Duane Vermeulen and Uzair Cassiem, Francois Louw was asked to play No 8. That combination offered plenty of physicality, and Coetzee may be tempted to retain it.
On the other hand, the Boks may be wary of the speed of the Irish between the breakdowns as well as their talent for slowing the ball down at the rucks. It’s for this reason that Coetzee may consider Oupa Mohoje at blindside and Cassiem at No 8.
These two players as well as Louw were seen huddled together at the open training session in Donnybrook on Monday afternoon. Perhaps it was an attempt to misdirect the journalists and photographers who attended the practice. One would hope so.
The decision to overlook Vermeulen – who told SARugbymag.co.za on Sunday that he is fit and available for Test selection – could prove costly. Louw and Vermeulen are renowned for their gainline feats and specialise in playing to the ball.
What’s more, Louw and Vermeulen have an intimate knowledge of the northern hemisphere game given that they play for Bath and Toulon respectively. It’s crazy to think that we will not get to see these two breakdown bandits playing in tandem on this tour.
On Monday, Coetzee intimated that Handré Pollard would crack the nod ahead of Elton Jantjies. Coetzee highlighted the fact that Jantjies was not with the Boks in the lead-up to this tour, and that he will return to his club in Japan after the third tour fixture against Italy.
In the clash played three years ago in Dublin, Pollard battled behind a losing pack. Granted, Francois Hougaard didn’t do his flyhalf any favours with the speed or the quality of his service from the rucks. After that game, though, Pollard was relegated to the bench for the remainder of the tour.
In theory, Pollard can offer the Boks more options at No 10 on the current four-game tour. Whereas Jantjies is prone to sitting in the pocket, Pollard can take the ball to the gainline.
The Boks will miss Jan Serfontein from a defensive point of view. Coetzee looks set to name Pollard, Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel as his 10-12-13 combination.
As Gordon D’Arcy mentioned in his newspaper column on Wednesday, Ireland’s experienced halfbacks, as well as the powerfully built rookie Bundee Aki may look to target that combination on Saturday.
An inexperienced Bok back-three unit looks set for a physical and aerial test. None of the fullbacks or the wingers in the squad have played a Test in the northern hemisphere before.
Needless to say, Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton will target Andries Coetzee, Dillyn Leyds and Courtnall Skosan with the high ball on Saturday. It would surprise to see Coetzee pushing the uncapped Warrick Gelant straight into the starting side for a clash of this nature.
The Boks side to play Ireland will be announced at 17:00 SA time on Thursday.
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