Allister Coetzee has expressed confidence in the balance of the Springbok back row ahead of the crunch clash against Ireland on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI in Dublin.
The Boks have travelled to Europe without a host of loose forwards. Warren Whiteley, Jean-Luc du Preez and Jaco Kriel have been sidelined with serious injuries.
In the lead-up to the tour, SA Rugby sent out a statement regarding Duane Vermeulen’s fitness. The No 8, who was nominated for the 2014 World Rugby Player of the Year award, would not be considered for the Tests against Ireland, France and Italy.
Vermeulen was clearly surprised when the details of this statement were relayed to him by SARugbymag.co.za. He has already made a comeback from injury for his club Toulon, and started his first game against Agen last Saturday.
On Thursday, Coetzee revealed why Vermeulen and another veteran playing in Europe, centre Frans Steyn, were not considered for selection.
From the outside, it would appear as if a green Bok side could do with an injection of experience. Coetzee, however, maintains there are other factors to consider.
‘Time to prepare is of the essence at international level,’ Coetzee began. ‘A player may be world-class, but he needs more than a week to settle in here.
‘We will stay in touch with those players going forward.’
Coetzee has retained the back-row combination that started against the All Blacks last month. Siya Kolisi will continue at openside, while Pieter-Steph du Toit will play No 7. In the absence of a bona fide No 8 with the necessary experience, Francois Louw will fill the gap there.
‘That combo gives you everything you need,’ the Bok coach said. ‘We have a lineout and explosive ball-carrying option in Pieter-Steph du Toit. Siya Kolisi has been in outstanding form the whole season. He’s a ball-carrier who can also contest on the ground.
‘Francois is playing No 8, but No 8 and openside are very similar in terms of playing towards the ball. It’s especially important in terms of securing our ball. An added bonus is his skill-set on the ground: pilfering and stealing.
‘I’m happy with the combination. There’s a great balance there.’
Overall, Coetzee felt that his side was on the right path. The Boks finished the Rugby Championship with two wins, two draws and two losses. They have been encouraged, however, by the narrow defeat to the All Blacks.
Last season, the Boks lost all three Tests in the northern hemisphere. Coetzee believes that this tour will be different. At the very least, there will be no excuses regarding the team’s conditioning.
‘You can’t come on these tours at the end of the year and say you are tired. Even saying that phrase makes you tired.
‘We’re looking at another opportunity to grow in different conditions. The way we have trained has really improved our fitness levels. That’s also why continuity is so important.’
Photo: Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images