Boks need midfield stability

The Boks have used 22 different centre combinations since 2010, with the search continuing for a settled and successful midfield pairing, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

The days of unquestionable centre combination selections are a distant memory. The stability of a De Wet Barry-Marius Joubert partnership or that of De Villiers and Jaque Fourie are things of the past.

De Villiers and Fourie added to their record centre combination (29) for the last time in 2013, but from year to year, the Boks have battled to settle on a consistent midfield pairing, either as the result of player form or injuries.

In 2010, seven different players featured for the Boks at centre (Juan de Jongh, Fourie, Wynand Olivier, De Villiers, Butch James, Zane Kirchner and Francois Steyn), while seven different combinations were used.

The year after, the Boks used four different combinations and six different centres. In 2012, there were four different midfield pairings, and five different players who appeared in the midfield.

However, 2013 shows a rare period of much-needed stability in the Bok midfield, with De Villiers and JJ Engelbrecht starting in nine Tests together, while De Villiers and Fourie then paired up for the final three matches of the year.

In 2014, only four players featured in the midfield, but three different combinations were used. There was at least some continuity, though, as De Villiers and Jan Serfontein started together in the last eight Tests that year.

Those two seasons of some stability also coincided with a successful period in Bok rugby, with the team losing just six games in 2013 and 2014.

Yet, the midfield was once again an area of uncertainty during the World Cup year in 2015, with question marks lingering over the fitness of De Villiers. In the end, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel and De Villiers were the only players to feature at centre last year, but it was only by the time the third World Cup pool game rolled around that De Allende and Kriel settled into an extended run as a combination.

This season, Allister Coetzee backed De Allende and Lionel Mapoe to start in the first five Tests of the year, but with that combination failing to fire, De Jongh and Kriel combined for the first time as a midfield pairing in last Saturday’s Test against the Wallabies.

It took the tally of new Bok centre pairings to 22 since 2010, and by all accounts, the Boks still seem some way from settling on a first-choice combination that could bring some much-needed consistency and stability to the Bok midfield.

Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

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Craig Lewis