Coetzee faces big calls

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has some difficult decisions to make at flyhalf and inside centre ahead of the Tests against Australia and New Zealand, writes JON CARDINELLI.

The time has come to hit the panic button. The time has come to make a change to the personnel and game plan, and to gear everything towards winning the next Test against Australia and ending a three-game losing streak.

The Boks lost 26-24 to Argentina in Salta, 23-17 to Australia in Brisbane, and 41-13 to New Zealand in Christchurch. Clearly the current combination is battling to gel. Clearly a change is required.

That said, Coetzee has painted himself into a corner with his squad selections. The 31-man group named ahead of the Rugby Championship was light on experience, especially in the back division. At the time, there was a concern that the dearth of experienced options at centre and fullback may compromise the Boks in their quest to succeed.

Judging by the recent results in Argentina and Australasia, those fears have been realised.

So where to from here? Coetzee's biggest call is who to back at No 10. This decision will influence the selections at No 12 and 15.

Elton Jantjies was always going to be judged on his performances against Australia and New Zealand. The inconsistency of the Bok pack must be taken into account, as it has failed to provide a solid platform from which Faf de Klerk and Jantjies can play. Even so, De Klerk and Jantjies have taken some horrendous options.

The latter in particular has started to make unforced errors. Jantjies dropped a high ball this past Saturday to give New Zealand set-piece possession in the Boks' 22. He sent a restart into touch, and hacked one tactical kick straight into the hands of an All Blacks player. The hosts scored from the latter mistake, and took control of the contest.

That Jantjies is not in a good space is plain to see. Apart from his struggles in general play, his goal-kicking has proved unreliable. It's not an encouraging thought if you believe the next Test at Loftus Versfeld will be decided by a few points.

At present, Coetzee has another option in Morné Steyn. But while Steyn proved an accurate game manager and goal-kicker between 2009 and 2015, he has been less dependable at Test level in 2016.

Pat Lambie made his comeback to competitive rugby last week in a weather-affected game against the Eastern Province Kings. It was hard to gauge just how ready Lambie is for such a big responsibility, that is starting at No 10 and kicking for goal in a must-win Test match. What we know, however, is that Lambie has done it before.

Johan Goosen could offer the Boks good attacking and kicking options at No 10. It was at flyhalf that Goosen first made his mark for the Boks in 2012. While he hasn't enjoyed a great success rate in front of goal at Test level this season, he did show his ability to sink pressure kicks in the preceding Top 14 playoffs.

Of course, moving Goosen to flyhalf will leave a hole at fullback. The Boks have no other experienced fullback options in the existing squad. Jesse Kriel has been listed as the official understudy, but is yet to start a Test in that position. It may also be a gamble to move Goosen to No 10 and ask Kriel, who is not the strongest tactical kicker, to slot in at No 15.

Backing Steyn at flyhalf and Goosen at fullback appears the least disruptive option at this stage. Coetzee also needs to back a strong ball-carrier and defender at No 12, and it is here that he may need to look outside of the existing group.

Damian de Allende has the size and ability to be a success in that position, but has battled for form this season. Juan de Jongh is a less physical player and has been targeted by opposition teams in recent matches.

Rohan Janse van Rensburg must be considered sooner rather than later. The powerful Lions player was South Africa's form No 12 in the recent Super Rugby tournament. He is yet to play a Test, but has the ability to get his team over the gainline, and shore up that No 12 defensive channel.

Starting Janse van Rensburg alongside Lionel Mapoe in midfield may be the best course of action. The pair excelled for the Lions in the recent Super Rugby tournament.

The Bok squad for the Tests against Australia and New Zealand will be announced later this week.

Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images 

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