The Springboks could field an almost entirely new-look backline against the Irish in June, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
To rewind to last year's World Cup semi-final against the All Blacks, the Bok backline looked like this: 9 Fourie du Preez, 10 Handré Pollard, 11 Bryan Habana, 12 Damian de Allende, 13 Jesse Kriel, 14 JP Pietersen, 15 Willie le Roux.
Just over six months later and so much has changed. For one, the legendary Du Preez has retired. Again, he was the fulcrum around which so much revolved at the World Cup, and his immense efforts in driving the Boks to play beyond themselves in England should not be quickly forgotten.
However, a considerable concern is the fact that there is still no successor who appears to be a shoo-in at scrumhalf. Rudy Paige, the man who many believed could be ready to step into the breach, is just one of several World Cup Boks who have failed to find their best form in Super Rugby.
Cobus Reinach, who just missed out to Paige in the World Cup reckoning, is out for the rest of the year with a knee injury, and again we’ve been reminded of the slim pickings in terms of the halfback depth in South Africa.
If the Boks go the conservative route, it means reliable Ruan Pienaar could be installed at No 9, but one would hope Allister Coetzee is willing to look to the future rather than the past.
Ross Cronjé and Faf de Klerk have dovetailed to good effect at the Lions, and it’s the latter who could well be best suited to the higher-paced game that Coetzee ultimately envisages for the Boks.
Opting for one of the Lions' scrumhalves would also make sense considering Elton Jantjies, who produced a sublime performance against the Blues on Saturday, is surely set to wear the Bok No 10 jersey.
Predominantly this season, Jantjies has won plenty of plaudits for his attacking touches, but in the wet weather against the Blues, he complemented this with superb game management and accurate use of the boot both out of hand and when kicking at goal.
Lambie also produced an impressive performance against the Jaguares, and his return from a serious injury has come at the perfect time for the Boks, but it’s Jantjies, on form, who simply has to be handed a frontline role against the Irish.
Looking at the midfield, the rise of Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel were two of the highlights from an otherwise largely forgettable year for the Boks in 2015, but both have battled to reach the same sort of heights this year. De Allende has struggled to find his best form since returning from injury, while Kriel has had his ups and downs with the Bulls.
Instead, it’s talented Jan Serfontein who has enjoyed a resurgence of sorts and would be a deserved recipient of the No 12 jersey, while it remains to be seen whether Frans Steyn could also come back into Bok contention.
At outside centre, as former Bok coach Nick Mallett quite rightly pointed out after the Lions game, Lionel Mapoe is an undeniably strong Bok contender. The 27-year-old has played a key role in the Lions’ success this season and is the form No 13 at the moment.
Out on the wings, JP Pietersen is one of the incumbent Boks who should retain his place after a resurgence in form, but he will know the likes of Sergeal Petersen and Ruan Combrinck have also been catching the eye in Super Rugby.
With Bryan Habana unavailable for the June series, Coetzee will need to settle on a new left wing, and Courtnall Skosan is surely the frontrunner as yet another Lions player who has come of age this season. Lwazi Mvovo is the likely alternative.
Finally, the fullback position could provide a bit of a poser for Coetzee, with incumbent Willie le Roux having mixed the magical with the mediocre for the Sharks. Meanwhile, Cheslin Kolbe has been a consistent bright spark for the Stormers, and as a player who Coetzee knows well and whose size will not be a concern, he could well be entrusted with the No 15 jersey in June.
It means the Bok backline could quite possibly look something like this: 9 Faf de Klerk, 10 Elton Jantjies, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 12 Jan Serfontein, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 14 JP Pietersen, 15 Willie le Roux/Cheslin Kolbe.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images