Allister Coetzee should consider starting Jesse Kriel and Ruan Combrinck at Ellis Park on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Immediately after the shock defeat to the unheralded Irish at Newlands, Allister Coetzee reiterated that the players deserved an opportunity to redeem themselves, and said they would receive that opportunity this week.
It was an early indication that he will not be panicked into making many changes to the team makeup after one shock result. One wonders, though, once emotion has been put aside, whether there could be some different deliberations after the tactical and technical analysis is conducted on Monday.
There will already have to be one change as Pat Lambie is unavailable due to the concussion he sustained on Saturday, and his composure and experience will be sorely missed this weekend, as it was once he left the field at Newlands.
Elton Jantjies is a more than capable replacement, and has been the form flyhalf throughout Super Rugby, but he is a different sort of No 10. It was quite revealing in the leadup to the first Test when Coetzee intimated that Lambie’s selection ahead of Jantjies had been based on merit rather than the finger injury that has troubled the Lions pivot.
Lambie’s goal-kicking, game management and experience are his strengths, just as Jantjies’s distribution, X factor and running game are what set him apart. Indeed, two very different flyhalves for a high-pressure Test.
Lambie’s absence has also altered the balance of the backline as he could cover fullback and even inside centre, while there was always a relative risk in opting to include the inexperienced Garth April as the third-choice flyhalf.
It would be a massive ask for April to step up into the Test arena for a decisive clash against Ireland just a year after playing club rugby. It’s surely too early in his development, but there are few other viable locally-based options.
The other expected change to the starting lineup should come in the second row, where Pieter-Steph du Toit must surely take over at No 5 from Lood de Jager. The big Cheetahs lock was in a class of his own in 2015, and was deservedly named the SA Player of the Year.
However, he’s struggled to replicate that Super Rugby form all season, while Du Toit has excelled for the Stormers and produced a strong cameo off the bench at Newlands. Du Toit has made a quick recovery from a hamstring strain, and now simply has to be reunited with Etzebeth in a formidable second row.
Is this enough, though? Surely the Boks need to offer something different and unexpected, particularly on attack?
The Springboks were horribly lateral with ball in hand at Newlands and failed to make any direct inroads despite the fact Ireland had to (courageously) defend with just 14 men for the better part of an hour.
Again, Willie le Roux was guilty at times of drifting across the field and compromising the space of those outside of him. The switch ball back inside was often far too predictable, while the last pass was poorly executed on a number of occasions.
Le Roux is an outstanding player and has almost exclusively held the rights to the Bok No 15 jersey for the past couple of years, but there have been missed opportunities in blooding a backup option in that position.
Kriel made a name for himself at fullback for the Bulls last year, and it’s unfortunate that the Boks’ desperation for an outside centre forced Heyneke Meyer to retread Kriel into a 13, albeit with some success.
It would be a bold and brave selection to now expect Kriel to suddenly return to 15 against the Irish, but his greater reliability with ball in hand and direct running surely warrants some consideration. Put it this way, he certainly wouldn’t be out of place at fullback.
In recent times, JP Pietersen has also failed to make a consistent and game-changing impression on the wing, and he once again had a quiet game at Newlands. Considering the Boks will now head to Ellis Park on Saturday, it could be the right time to back Combrinck to slot into the No 14 jersey on his familiar home ground.
All season, the Lions star has impressed with his direct and decisive running in Super Rugby, while he also boasts a powerful kicking game. These are strengths that could certainly serve the Boks well on Saturday.
Ultimately, the real dilemma will understandably revolve around the need to retain the experience of 67 Test-capped Pietersen and that of Le Roux, who has started in 33 Tests. The Boks desperately need their big-name players to step up in Johannesburg, but the hosts also can’t afford to dish up another dose of such standard fare at Ellis Park.
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