Springbok coach Allister Coetzee continues to send out mixed messages regarding his selections and game plan, writes JON CARDINELLI in Johannesburg.
The Boks are caught between two game plans. The coach and his players are not on the same page. Some of the less experienced players do not understand what's required of them at Test level.
These are just some of the rumours that have been doing the rounds since the Boks lost to Ireland at Newlands in June. After witnessing the team's struggles in recent matches against Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, and especially after spending one day in camp with the Boks this week, one is inclined to believe that all of the above is true.
The Boks need to bounce back against the Wallabies at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. They need to snap a three-game losing streak, and protect their proud record at the Pretoria stronghold.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. The Boks need to revert to a more traditional approach. This involves selecting a pack as well as a midfield combination that can dominate the collisions. It involves backing a No 10 that can kick accurately from hand and for goal.
It's believed that Morné Steyn will be given the flyhalf responsibilities on Saturday. It's a selection that will improve the Boks' chances of victory.
And yet, Coetzee has now gone and made several bizarre public statements which suggest that the Boks won't bet on a pragmatic approach.
Confused? Welcome to the world of the Boks.
On Monday, Coetzee said that he was happy with the balance of the Bok back row at present. This despite the fact that the Bok loose trio, as well as the forwards as a collective, have failed to win the collisions or control the breakdowns with any authority over the course of the Rugby Championship.
On Monday, Coetzee disagreed with the assertion that the Boks are in dire need of a No 12 who can serve as a momentum-stopper and gatherer. When it was put to him that Frans Steyn and the uncapped Rohan Janse van Rensburg – both of whom are not in the squad – have the attributes to succeed in that role, the Bok coach said that the team has everything it needs at present, and that Damian de Allende can play a more abrasive role if required.
It was concerning to hear that Coetzee was not only pleased with the performances of Juan de Jongh and Jesse Kriel in Australasia, but that he intends to back them in midfield for the coming Test against the Wallabies. Three hours after making this statement, as well as another about De Allende being just as physical as Steyn or Janse van Rensburg, SA Rugby confirmed via press release that De Allende had been sent back to his province and that he would not feature against the Wallabies.
Still confused? You're not the only one.
One way to read this is that Coetzee doesn't feel that a physical No 12 who can dominate the gainline is necessary at the highest level. If he did, he would have kept De Allende, who he feels is the physical equal to Steyn or Janse van Rensburg, with the squad and then named him to start against the Wallabies at Loftus.
If Coetzee is serious about sticking with the current back row, and especially a blindside flanker in Oupa Mohoje who is evidently not in the mould of a Willem Alberts or a Juan Smith, then one wonders how this will impact on the Boks' ambitions to boss the gainline, and ultimately their intent to implement a more accurate kicking game.
Steyn has proven himself to be one of the better tactical kickers on the planet. But if his forwards are losing the collisions, he is going to feel the pressure, and that accuracy is going to suffer.
Coetzee said on Monday that the recalled Willie le Roux may be considered at wing. Three hours later, it was confirmed that Lwazi Mvovo, the only other specialist winger in the squad besides Bryan Habana, would be released to play in the Currie Cup.
Le Roux has played on the wing for the Boks before. However, it will be interesting to see if Coetzee plays him at wing or fullback this coming Saturday.
The latter option would force Johan Goosen onto the wing, a position he is yet to play at Test level. Francois Hougaard, who has played on the wing in recent Tests, is expected to shift to scrumhalf this Saturday.
It's at times likes these that one has to ask why Coetzee was so quick to drop Le Roux in the first place. And why was a veteran in JP Pietersen so easily discarded following the Ireland series? The latter has been in fine form for Leicester since moving overseas.
The Boks need to win the gainline battle to implement their kicking game to good effect. They will not win the collisions, however, if Coetzee continues to select a blindside flank and an inside centre who are better in broken play than they are in the trenches.
Probable Springbok starting XV – 15 Johan Goosen, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Julian Redlinghuys, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images