Ruan Combrinck is set to make his Test debut off the bench against Ireland at Ellis Park on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI in Johannesburg.
The 23-man Springbok squad to play against Ireland in the second, and possibly series-deciding, Test at Ellis Park will be announced at 13:00 on Thursday. Coach Allister Coetzee is expected to make just one unforced change, with Combrinck replacing Jesse Kriel on the bench.
The Lions winger has enjoyed a great Super Rugby season to date. His speed, physicality, kicking game, and ability under the high ball should serve the Boks well in a tactical battle against the Irish. It wouldn’t surprise to see Coetzee using Combrinck at fullback in the second half if Willie le Roux fails to fire in the first.
Coetzee has come out strong this week in defence of his game plan. On Monday, the Bok coach told the media that the players failed to execute the strategy in the first Test at Newlands. He said that the players had learned their lesson, and would attempt to play with more balance at Ellis Park.
Coetzee said that he wanted to give the same group of players an opportunity to redeem themselves in the second Test. There will be at least one forced change, however, with Elton Jantjies starting ahead of the injured Pat Lambie. Morné Steyn, who only linked up with the squad on Monday, is expected to be on the bench.
The Boks will stage their final training session before the team announcement on Thursday morning. It is hoped that Duane Vermeulen and Lood de Jager will feature in that session. Both players are nursing injuries and did not train on Monday and Tuesday.
The loss of both players would be a blow to the Boks ahead of physical contest against Ireland. Vermeulen is the team’s chief organiser on defence, while De Jager manages the lineouts.
It could be argued that the Boks will lose little in the latter department, as Pieter-Steph du Toit has been in commanding lineout form of late. A scenario that sees De Jager ruled out and Du Toit elevated will, however, necessitate the selection of the uncapped Franco Mostert on the bench.
If Vermeulen doesn’t bounce back from his knee injury, the more athletic Warren Whiteley will start at No 8. This will open up a spot on the bench, and Coetzee will be forced to pick another uncapped player.
There are currently two players in the squad vying for that loose forward berth, and Coetzee will need to consider what each player offers in terms of covering more than one back-row position, and how their inclusion affects the make-up of the bench as a whole.
Jaco Kriel only really offers an option at No 6, while Sikhumbuzo Notshe has played in all three loose forward positions for the Stormers this season. Notshe has impressed with his running and passing skills when the game has opened up, but in a war of attrition, he is yet to make a statement.
There’s been an edge about the Bok players and coaches this week. The group is hurting in the wake of the 26-20 loss to Ireland at Newlands, South Africa’s first-ever loss to Ireland on home soil.
Coetzee is adamant that his players understand what will be required from them at Elllis Park on Saturday. He believes that they have learned their lesson in the wake of the disaster at Newlands.
What Coetzee hasn’t explained is why the Boks needed to lose to learn a tactical lesson – territory and physical dominance are key at Test level, that is pretty plain for all too see.
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