JON CARDINELLI looks at where the Springboks are well stocked and where they are thin ahead of the Test series against Ireland.
THREE AREAS OF STRENGTH
Who will start at No 5 against Ireland, 2015 World Cup star Lood de Jager or form Super Rugby lock Pieter-Steph du Toit? If fit, Eben Etzebeth is certain to wear the No 4 jersey. Those selected for the SA A side have impressed for their respective franchises in 2016. Franco Mostert, JD Schickerling and RG Snyman would not disappoint if they were called upon later in the Test series against Ireland. At present, South Africa boasts a number of promising second-row options.
The Lions’ scrummaging has been key to their success in 2016. While less consistent, the Stormers' set piece has impressed on several occasions. Julian Redelinghuys and Frans Malherbe, the tightheads of those respective teams, are in great form and will be expected to replicate their scrummaging feats on the Test stage. The SA A side boasts a good blend of youth and experience with the promising Lizo Gqoboka and Thomas du Toit set to scrum alongside Vincent Koch, Coenie Oosthuizen and Marcel van der Merwe at some point this June.
Jake White, Peter de Villiers and Heyneke Meyer all made a point of backing youngsters early on in their respective tenures. Coetzee has included nine uncapped players in his Test squad, while a few of those who have been picked for the SA A side only made their Super Rugby debuts earlier this season. Neither the Boks nor the SA A side should want for youthful exuberance this June.
… AND THREE OF CONCERN
Siya Kolisi put in a strong performance against the Cheetahs on Saturday, and is the favourite to start at No 7 in the Test series against Ireland. However, as the season progresses to the Rugby Championship, Kolisi’s ability at the gainline will be under greater scrutiny. It is also possible that the demands of the position will take a toll on his body. Coetzee hasn’t picked any out-and-out blindside flankers in his squad of 31. Jaco Kriel plays No 6 for the Lions. Both Duane Vermeulen and Warren Whiteley specialise at No 8, although the former did play at blindside for the Cheetahs and Stormers during the early stages of his career. Stormers utility forward Sikhumbuzo Notshe produced one of his better showings at No 8 against the Cheetahs this past Saturday. Between 2013 and 2015, Francois Louw was the Boks’ first-choice openside. That said, Heyneke Meyer did use Louw at blindside when the likes of Willem Alberts or Schalk Burger were sidelined with injuries. Burger, the starting No 7 for the Boks in their 2015 World Cup semi-final, is currently recovering from an ankle ailment and will miss the series against Ireland.
Rudy Paige is the most experienced scrumhalf in the Bok squad with two Test caps (both from the bench), while Faf de Klerk and Nic Groom are yet to play for South Africa. Pat Lambie is the most experienced flyhalf option with 50 Test caps. Like Paige, Elton Jantjies has made two Test appearances from the bench. The third flyhalf in the squad is Garth April, who made his Super Rugby debut for the Sharks earlier this season. At the Bok squad announcement, Coetzee played down the lack of experience in the halfback department. However, it remains a concern. The Boks will attempt to play a more balanced brand of rugby this June, and the success of the game plan will hinge on the decision-making of the halfbacks. The situation may be exacerbated later in the series if the Boks suffer further injury setbacks in this department. As it is, they are already without established Boks like Cobus Reinach and Handré Pollard.
Willie le Roux is the only specialist fullback in the Test squad, while there is no out-and-out fullback in the SA A side. This suggests that there may be some experimentation over the next month. Coetzee has spoken about Lambie and Jesse Kriel as alternatives to Le Roux, while Lions wing Ruan Combrinck may be a good bet to wear the No 15 jersey for the SA A team. However, the situation may be complicated if the Boks lose Jantjies and Le Roux to injuries over the next month, and Lambie has to focus on flyhalf. In that event, it wouldn’t surprise to see Coetzee calling up Johan Goosen, a utility player who has been in outstanding form for Racing 92 in the European leagues.
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