Coetzee’s selection dilemma

Allister Coetzee has some tough yet necessary changes to make ahead of the Springboks’ do-or-die match against Ireland at Ellis Park, writes JON CARDINELLI in Johannesburg.

Immediately after the defeat at Newlands, the Bok coach made a revealing statement. Coetzee confirmed that the Boks’ preparation for the first Test against Ireland could not have been better.

The statement begs the question of how the Bok coaching staff plans to turn things around before the second Test at Ellis Park, a match that could decide the series. If we’re to take Coetzee seriously and believe that things could not have gone better in the buildup to the first Test in Cape Town, can we really expect the Boks to improve ahead of the second game in Johannesburg?

Coetzee faces a similar headache on the selection front. Most of the players who fronted the Irish last Saturday have come in for fierce criticism due to a lack of attitude and accuracy. However, what’s concerning to note is that Coetzee could not have selected a much better team for the first Test considering the players at his disposal (unless he selected more of those who play their club rugby in Europe).

The biggest debate before the first Test was whether Pat Lambie or Elton Jantjies should start at No 10. There will be no such debate ahead of the second Test, as Lambie has been ruled out of the clash due to a concussion. Jantjies will start at flyhalf and assume the goal-kicking responsibilities.

What other changes could Coetzee possibly make for this clash? One needs to remember that everything will be on the line in the coming match. If the Boks lose at Ellis Park, they lose the series. Coetzee and his charges could go down in history as the first Bok group to lose a home series to Ireland. 

With this in mind, Coetzee has to pick his best possible side. The desperation to win this game may force him to back his most experienced players.

Of course, the Bok coach cannot persist with the exact same combination that did duty at Newlands and expect a different result. It would send the wrong message to the public and the players that the performance and result in the first Test was good enough.

Julian Redelinghuys has been in fine scrummaging form for the Lions this season. Perhaps the Boks need to start utilising this weapon from the outset.

Pieter-Steph du Toit has made a full recovery from a hamstring injury, and made a big impact from the bench in the first Test. Eben Etzebeth and Du Toit have been in supreme form for the Stormers this season, ranking first and second for lineout steals.

The Lions halfback pairing of Faf de Klerk and Jantjies should be backed. There will be more pressure on Jantjies to contribute from the outset, and Coetzee will hope that Jantjies doesn’t suffer the same fate as Lambie.

The Boks are short on experienced flyhalf options at the moment. Apart from Jantjies, Garth April and SA A pivot Francois Brummer are yet to win a Test cap.

At the squad announcement on 28 May, Coetzee expressed his reluctance to fast-track April, who only made his Super Rugby debut earlier this season. If Jantjies were to go down as Lambie did at Newlands (with a serious injury in the 23rd minute) then April would be tasked with steering the Boks to a win.

A more experienced flyhalf will be needed for such a responsibility. There is too much on the line this Saturday. Perhaps it’s time for Coetzee to pick up the phone and get Johan Goosen or Morné Steyn back in South Africa soonest.

The Boks are also short on inside centres. When Jan Serfontein sustained a serious injury, Coetzee made light of the fact that the Boks had one remaining specialist No 12 in their 31-man squad. How the Boks could have done with Serfontein going into the second Test.

Damian de Allende had a poor game at Newlands, but Coetzee has no choice but to back the Stormers midfielder this Saturday. Elevating a centre from the SA A group would be too risky given that De Allende’s midfield partner, Lionel Mapoe, only has two Test caps. Some might punt the elevation of Howard Mnisi, but the SA A No 12 battled in the match against the England Saxons last Friday.

The injury to Lambie robs the Boks of a flyhalf and a fullback option. Willie le Roux was criticised for his showing in the first Test, but the Boks have few real alternatives.

Coetzee originally earmarked Lambie as a backup to Le Roux. Leolin Zas played No 15 for the SA A side last Friday, but doesn’t appear ready for Test rugby just yet.

Ruan Combrinck may prove a fullback option in the long term. Right now, it may be wiser to give the Lions player a run on the right wing. JP Pietersen disappointed in the recent clash against Ireland.

Coetzee needs to get his selections right ahead of the second Test. He can’t afford to discard too many senior statesmen given the magnitude of the occasion. At the same time, he cannot persist with certain players who offered very little at Newlands.

Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images

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Jon Cardinelli