Jesse Kriel’s ongoing struggle with a groin injury may force a reshuffle in midfield with Damian de Allende starting at No 12 and Juan de Jongh moving to 13, reports JON CARDINELLI in Durban.
De Jongh and Kriel have started in the midfield for the Boks in the last three Tests. Following an inconsistent showing by the combination on attack and defence, many have called for a change ahead of the Test against the All Blacks at Kings Park on Saturday.
And yet, an injury could force coach Allister Coetzee to change that midfield combination. Kriel sat out the training session at Kings Park on Tuesday morning, and is unlikely to feature against the All Blacks. Winger Bryan Habana trained apart from the team in an effort to rehabilitate his injured thigh.
Coetzee does have several No 13 options at his disposal. Apart from Kriel, De Jongh and Lionel Mapoe play there regularly for their respective franchises. Johan Goosen has enjoyed a lot of success at outside centre while on duty for Racing 92 in France.
De Allende and Mapoe started in midfield for the Boks in the first five Tests of the 2016 season. The players struggled on defence and attack, and were subsequently replaced by De Jongh and Kriel in Australasia. Coetzee may be reluctant to reinstate that De Allende-Mapoe combination at Kings Park this Saturday.
De Allende and De Jongh have played together at the Stormers since 2013. While it is not the strongest combination in world rugby by any stretch, it may represent the Boks’ best chance of a balanced midfield performance against the All Blacks.
Coetzee, of course, feels that gainline-bossing No 12s like Frans Steyn and Rohan Janse van Rensburg are not needed at present. Last week, he said that De Allende can be just as effective as a ball-carrier and defender in that No 12 channel.
On Tuesday, Bok backline coach Mzwandile Stick commended De Jongh and Kriel’s performances in recent matches. But if Kriel fails a fitness test later this week, the Boks will need to make a change.
‘We want to see combinations receiving time together,’ said Stick. ‘Even if they don’t click after one or two games, we want to see them getting another chance to build. Hopefully Jesse will recover in time and will receive another chance to play alongside Juan.
‘I thought we were a lot better as a team at Loftus,’ Stick added. ‘Even at the end, when Morné Steyn took that quick tap, and we built up to that drop goal. The players showed that they were on the same page. That is what you want to see as a coach.’
De Jongh said he was not fazed about the prospect of shifting to No 13 for such a big match.
‘It doesn’t matter where I play. I just want to play,’ he said.
‘The All Blacks have a lot of classy players in their backline, and whoever starts in the midfield is going to apply some pressure. We have to maintain our focus, because the All Blacks can punish you when you make a mistake.’
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