Big test for new Bok back row

Warren Whiteley believes there is a strong balance to the Springbok loose trio that will front up to Argentina this Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Nelspruit.

Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi and Francois Louw started in the Bok back row for the opening Test of the season against Ireland, but only the latter is still available to retain his place for this weekend’s opening Rugby Championship encounter.

Vermeulen and Kolisi have both been ruled out for some time due to knee injuries, with Warren Whiteley now slotting in at No 8 (he also started his first Test in the final match against Ireland), while Oupa Mohoje comes in at blindside flank for his sixth Springbok start.

‘We are three different types of players, but I think that brings good balance,’ Whiteley commented after the Bok team announcement on Thursday. ‘We have different individual roles and strengths, and although I haven’t played much with Oupa and Flo, it’s a great opportunity to build that cohesion as a loose-forward combination.’

Pieter-Steph du Toit is set to provide blindside-flank cover off the bench, while Jaco Kriel will offer an impact option at No 6.

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee said he was very comfortable with the different roles that each player could offer in the loose trio.

‘Warren has another great opportunity to start in the Rugby Championship now. He covers a lot of ground, links with the backs well and can contribute when the team is on the counter-attack. Warren is also very effective in the wider channels, and his all-round ability to read the game and act as a linking loose forward adds a lot to the team.

‘Flo was outstanding in the third and final Test [against Ireland], and I know a lot of people thought that he didn’t perform to his best in that series, but when you look at the guy who secures the ball at the breakdown and provides continuity for us, it’s him. He plays to the ball and does that really well.

‘Oupa is one of our lineout specialists in the side, and he’s also played in teams that beat the All Blacks and Wallabies, and you can't discount that experience. He adds a lot at the lineout, he’s got good pace and carries the ball well. So, I’m really happy with the balance we have.’

The Bok loose trio will be opposed by the experience of Pumas flankers Juan Manuel Leguizamon and Pablo Matera, while talented Facundo Isa comes in at No 8.

Argentina are well known for their ability to scrap and compete at the breakdown, and this is certainly an area where they will look to disrupt and slow down the Springboks’ ball.

Whiteley said they knew what to expect from a tenacious Pumas outfit on Saturday.

‘They have powerful loose forwards and a great No 8 [in Isa], who is a young and dynamic player. Argentina have a lot of skill and talent, and all around the park they have game breakers who can make something out of nothing. That makes them extremely dangerous, so we certainly have a lot of respect for them and the way they’ve developed as a side.’

Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images

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