Changes to the backline would boost the Springboks in the short and long term, writes JON CARDINELLI in Cardiff.
The Boks find themselves in a challenging position ahead of a game which falls outside of the Test window.
Senior loose forwards Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw have returned to Toulon and Bath respectively. Beast Mtawarira, the most experienced player in the Bok squad, is likely to miss the match due to a groin injury.
It’s believed that the game against Wales will be Allister Coetzee’s last as Bok head coach. Last week, it was rumoured that Coetzee and forwards coach Matt Proudfoot had been in touch with the Canon Eagles in Japan about a move in the coming months.
The appointment of Rassie Erasmus as director of rugby will lead to significant changes in personnel and strategy. The result of the match in Cardiff is unlikely to make a difference in this regard.
Coetzee and this group may be looking to bow out on a high. It wouldn’t surprise to see Coetzee retaining, where possible, the players that featured against Italy with the aim of claiming a third win on tour.
That said, there should be a number of changes with players leaving and in one case rejoining the squad.
Siya Kolisi’s wife gave birth to the couple’s second child last week. The flanker will link up with the squad in Cardiff, and one would expect him to come straight back into the starting side at No 6.
Dan du Preez made his Test debut from the bench against France. He featured in the latter stages against Italy and it would make sense to start him in place of Vermeulen at No 8.
Uzair Cassiem started for the Boks in this position in the Rugby Championship, but has not played much rugby since returning from injury. The Cheetahs blindside may find himself on the bench this week, though.
Steven Kitshoff should offset the loss of Mtawarira up front. Hooker Malcolm Marx should replace Bongi Mbonambi at No 2 if he is cleared of a shoulder injury.
Thomas du Toit has been called up as front-row cover. However, Coetzee has used Trevor Nyakane as both a loosehead and tighthead this season and may prefer to include the Bulls prop and Ruan Dreyer on the bench.
Lock Ruan Botha could win his first cap on Saturday. The Boks need to fill the second-row void on the bench now that Franco Mostert has gone to Japan.
The late decision to retain Elton Jantjies is an interesting one. Last week, Coetzee said that both Mostert and Jantjies would be released to their Japanese clubs. On Sunday, however, Jantjies travelled with the team to Cardiff. If Handré Pollard and Jantjies retain their places in the match 23, then Curwin Bosch will finish the tour unused.
Will Coetzee persist with the incumbents at No 13 and 15? Jesse Kriel and Andries Coetzee have battled on this tour to the northern hemisphere, but may find themselves retained for the sake of continuity.
Warrick Gelant made his debut in the second half of last week’s game. The Bok coach opted to introduce him on the wing.
The move said much about how much Coetzee is rated by the coaches as a kicker. That said, the incumbent fullback made a number of unforced errors under the high ball and when kicking from hand.
Am was the standout South African centre during the Super Rugby tournament. His power at the point of contact, as well as his decision-making on the ground marked him as something special. He would have featured in the Tests against France in June if not for an injury.
Like Bosch, Am is yet to see a minute of game time on this tour. It would be a shame if he finished the 2017 season without a single cap to his name.
A player of Am’s abilities would certainly boost the Boks’ defensive cause in Cardiff. The centre should be in the mix for the series against England next June and ultimately the 2019 World Cup.
The decision to back Am in Cardiff could have short- and long-term benefits. Whether Coetzee sees it that way is another story.