Allister Coetzee’s selections as much as his press conference offerings have handed Ireland the advantage ahead of the tour-defining clash on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI in Dublin.
The Boks can’t speak highly enough of the Ireland coaches and players. Since arriving in Dublin, Coetzee, assistant Matt Proudfoot, and the players themselves have gone out of their way to compliment their counterparts.
The charm offensive continued on Thursday at the team announcement held at the side’s base in St Helens.
‘Ireland are playing at home. They must surely be the favourites,’ Coetzee said as if it was the natural order of things. Three years earlier, of course, the Boks came to Dublin on the back of a win against the All Blacks and were installed as favourites by the Irish press.
‘They’re a class side. They beat New Zealand last year and not a lot of teams get the opportunity to beat the No 1 team in the world.’
Coetzee has retained the same back row – Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, and Francois Louw – that started against the All Blacks last month. It is the strongest combination that can be selected considering who the Boks have on tour.
No 8 Duane Vermeulen, who told SARugbymag.co.za last week that he is fit and available for selection, has been overlooked as has 2007 World Cup-winning centre Frans Steyn. The Boks would certainly boast a stronger and more experienced look with those players in tow.
That said, it’s Coetzee’s selection at flyhalf that comes as the biggest surprise. Earlier this week, Coetzee said that Handré Pollard was looking good after spending an extended period with the squad.
Elton Jantjies, said Coetzee, was on duty with his club in Japan when the Boks trained in the lead-up to the tour. Coetzee also pointed out that Jantjies would be leaving the squad after the third tour fixture against Italy.
The inference was that Pollard was set for a start at No 10, his first since the 2015 World Cup. One could understand the thinking. Pollard has been a part of the Boks’ pre-tour preparations since October. In terms of this specific clash, Pollard, more than Jantjies, has the ability to make an impact at the gainline.
On Thursday, Coetzee revealed that Jantjies was his man. Continuity in selection, said the Bok coach, had swayed the decision.
’Elton has slotted in really well since returning,’ said Coetzee. ‘The preparation has gone smoothly and continuity is really important for us.
‘Handré has trained excellently throughout the Rugby Championship. He hasn’t had a lot of time. We wanted him to get 20 minutes against New Zealand [In Cape Town] and then he took a knock to the head and couldn’t finish the game.
‘He is ready to play and he must wait for his opportunity. The competition in the group is healthy and that is a bonus.’
It’s a conservative call by Coetzee. It may indeed present a risk. Ireland will surely look to target Jantjies’ channel this Saturday.
The New Zealand-born Bundee Aki, who will play his first Test, could be the man tasked with heading down that road. Centres Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel will also have their work cut out for them on defence.
‘I have no doubt that Damian will take his chance this weekend,’ said Coetzee. ‘He knows that a certain standard has been set [by Jan Serfontein over the past few games] and he’s capable of that.
‘Bundee has done well for Connacht, but this is his first time in international rugby,’ the Bok coach said of Ireland’s selection at No 12. ‘We’ve seen him play for the Chiefs in Super Rugby. So we have to make sure our defence is solid this weekend.’
Eyebrows were raised when Coetzee named his squad for the four-game tour. The lack of experience at the back was highlighted as a concern.
This Saturday, Andries Coetzee, Courtnall Skosan and Dillyn Leyds will all feature in a Test staged in the northern hemisphere for the very first time.
Coetzee, however, didn’t appear too worried when this fact was relayed to him on Thursday.
‘Andries Coetzee and Courtnall Skosan have played together at the Lions for a number of years now. They might not be experienced in terms of Test matches but they are very mature players.
‘Dillyn Leyds is an exceptional rugby player. He might not be one of the most sizeable wingers but he is very talented. He understands the 15 role very well.
‘That will be key, those guys will be tied together with strings at the back, handling the kicking game of Ireland. They will need to do well positionally because Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray are prolific kickers of the ball.
‘In the past, they have put the ball in behind the defensive line and turned the Boks. I’m happy with our back-three. Those three guys along with Raymond Rhule have grown as a combination. We’ve only used those four outside backs the whole season. I’m happy with the progress.’
One wonders how happy Coetzee will be come the final whistle on Saturday.
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