Siya Kolisi’s injury and Schalk Burger’s unavailability will leave the Springboks thin at blindside flank in the Rugby Championship, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Bok coach Allister Coetzee has plenty to ponder in the lead-up to the first Rugby Championship Test against Argentina on 20 August. The balance of the starting back row, and more specifically the selection of the starting No 7, must be a concern now that two key players have been ruled out.
Burger missed the Test series against Ireland in June due to injury. Many expected the 86-Test veteran to return to the Bok squad in the Rugby Championship. This past Saturday, however, the Saracens-bound Burger declared himself unavailable for Test selection.
Burger’s bombshell was followed by another. On Monday, it was confirmed that Kolisi will play no part in the Boks’ Rugby Championship campaign. The incumbent Bok No 7 sustained a serious knee injury in the Super Rugby quarter-final against the Chiefs at Newlands, and has been sidelined for three months.
Coetzee has some important calls to make over the next few weeks. The Boks were outplayed at the collisions and breakdowns in the three-Test series against Ireland. Even if Coetzee had a fully fit squad at his disposal, the make-up of the starting back row would be a point of fierce debate.
The unavailability of Burger and Kolisi won’t make Coeztee’s job any easier. The Boks have a world-class No 8 in Duane Vermeulen, and a good alternative in Warren Whiteley. In the recent series against Ireland, Coetzee used Francois Louw and eventually Jaco Kriel at openside flank. Kolisi, however, was the only specialist blindside used over the three matches.
Over the course of the series, Coetzee was forced to move players into that blindside position, often late in the contest. Whiteley spent some time there in the first Test, Pieter-Steph du Toit moved from lock to flank late in second Test, while Louw moved to accommodate Kriel in the back row towards the end of the third.
None of these players should be viewed as long-term alternatives at No 7. Indeed, there’s already been much debate regarding Kolisi’s best position in the back row, and whether he isn’t better suited to openside rather than blindside. Coetzee needs to start looking to the future by picking a blindside who can lend the loose trio some grunt.
Du Toit has been punted as a possible solution given his size and natural athleticism. He was one of the standout performers for the Stormers this season, completing the second-most lineout steals overall and more tackles than any other Stormers player.
The selection of Du Toit at No 7 will allow Coetzee to pick Lood de Jager at 5. This will free up a space on the bench for Franco Mostert.
The Boks certainly aren’t short of locks at the moment. Youngsters such as RG Snyman, Jason Jenkins and JD Schickerling all enjoyed strong Super Rugby campaigns with their respective franchises. All three have the potential to play Test rugby.
The Boks will play Argentina in Nelspruit on 20 August and in Salta on 27 August. If Coetzee is going to experiment with a new back-row combination, it may be best to do so in the less competitive matches against the Pumas.
One way or another, Coetzee will have to try something new. If the Bok coach remains cool to the idea of selecting Du Toit at No 7, he will have to explore a couple of overseas options or blood another local performer. Warwick Tecklenburg has been in fine form for the Lions, as has Jean-Luc du Preez for the Sharks.
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