The decision to play Johan Goosen at fullback against Italy this Saturday will benefit the Springboks in the long-term, writes JON CARDINELLI in Padova.
Two weeks ago, while the Boks were transferring to Dublin, I caught up with backline coach Ricardo Louscher. We chatted about the Boks' performances in the Rugby Championship, as well as those of a few players competing in Europe.
Johan Goosen was an interesting point of discussion. Loubscher told me that Goosen was still rated very highly by the Bok coaching staff, and would provide backup at 10 and 15 for the first three tour matches. He suggested that Goosen was more likely to receive game time at fullback, as the coaches were looking at the attack-minded player with the big boot as a like-for-like alternative to Willie le Roux.
Le Roux has improved significantly over the past two seasons. His tactical kicking has become a weapon, especially in northern hemisphere conditions. His unique attacking strengths have added an element of unpredictability to the Boks.
While he wears 15 on his back, Le Roux often pops up in the first-receiver channel when the attack has progressed beyond the second or third phase. This is where he is at his best, not only as an individual runner, but as a decision-maker and distributor.
Goosen is in the same mould. Le Roux began his professional career as a flyhalf at Boland, and only later switched to wing and fullback when he joined the Cheetahs. Goosen made his mark at 10 for the Cheetahs and then the Boks. However, it’s at 15 where he could make the most impact on the current tour and in the years to come.
Le Roux didn’t train with the Boks on Monday afternoon because of an injury concern. Goosen ran at 15 in his place, and it was clear by how the Boks attacked in the latter phases that Goosen will be utilised in much the same way as Le Roux. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering that Goosen boasts similar skills as well as the X factor.
Goosen will not be available for next week’s Test against Wales, as the game falls outside the IRB-sanctioned window. Before he departs, he must show Meyer why he must travel to the 2015 World Cup as the understudy to Le Roux.
South Africa doesn’t boast many fullback options at present. Zane Kirchner and Pat Lambie fall into the solid yet unspectacular category. I’m not suggesting the Boks need a maverick at 15. Le Roux has proved he has the kicking game to add value in a more tactical contest, and Goosen kicks the ball further than anybody in the team. These are the all-rounders that should, in theory, cover 15 at next year’s World Cup. Le Roux has the starting position locked down after two outstanding seasons. This Saturday, we will get a chance to see why Goosen also deserves to be in the World Cup squad.
Meyer is likely to make a few more changes for the clash against Italy. Injuries, availability and the need to experiment will all factor into the selection of the starting XV.
Coenie Oosthuizen should start at tighthead prop in place of the injured Jannie du Plessis, while Trevor Nyakane is expected to receive an opportunity ahead of Beast Mtawarira.
Duane Vermeulen is another who has clocked up significant mileage this past season, and Meyer may opt to give Warren Whiteley or Nizaam Carr a start at No 8. Blindside flank Teboho Mohoje will come into the team for Schalk Burger, who has returned to his club in Japan after the clash against England at Twickenham.
Jaco Kriel trained with the starting side in Padova on Monday while Marcell Coetzee sat on the sidelines. However, both Vermeulen and Coetzee were being managed at that training session, and may yet train later in the week. It's also unlikely Meyer will opt for an entirely new back row.
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