Bok defence coach John McFarland is confident that Marcell Coetzee will offset the loss of fetcher Francois Louw this Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Louw sustained a freakish back injury in the recent clash against the All Blacks. He has since undergone surgery, and has been ruled out for the rest of the Rugby Championship.
It’s a big blow for a Bok side that owes much of its recent success to an openside flank in the league of David Pocock and Richie McCaw. The Boks have improved over the past 18 months, particularly at the breakdown, and having Louw in the mix has certainly enhanced their defensive threat.
On Tuesday, McFarland admitted that the Boks would miss Louw in the next two games. He is not only one of the more experienced players in the side and a world-class player, but a leader as well.
That said, Coetzee has enjoyed an outstanding season to date. He was one of the standouts for South Africa’s best side, the Sharks, in the 2014 Super Rugby competition, and has carried that form through to the Rugby Championship.
While he has played blindside flank in all four of the Boks’ tournament matches, he should have no trouble switching to openside, which is his preferred position.
‘You are always going to miss a player like Flo, but I’m confident that Marcell will fill his shoes,’ said McFarland. ‘It is not exactly like for like, but often when you have a new player coming in, you get something different. Flo has certain strengths, but Marcell will bring something new to the table [as a No 6].’
The Bok forwards were excellent in the clash against the All Blacks on 13 September. The stat of nine breakdown turnovers substantiates this statement, and confirms that the Bok back row got the better of their more fancied All Blacks counterparts.
Losing Louw has prompted a reshuffle to that combination for the coming Test against the Wallabies, with Coetzee moving to No 6 and Oupa Mohoje expected to fill the gap at No 7. This new combination will need to settle quickly, as the Wallabies will compete fiercely at the breakdown at Newlands.
The Boks are desperate for a win after losing both Tests in Australasia. McFarland said that it’s important that they maintain their composure, particularly on defence, for the full 80 minutes.
‘We saw what happened in Perth. We controlled the game for 78 minutes, but then a lapse cost us at the death [when Wallabies wing Rob Horne grabbed a match-winning try].
‘We have to lift our game, we have to maintain our focus for the full 80. There is still a lot to gain, and we will have another chance to beat the All Blacks in Johannesburg next week. However, we can't look too far ahead, we will have to be at our best against Australia on Saturday.’
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