Vincent Koch’s titanic performance in the Champions Cup final has given Rassie Erasmus the right kind of selection headache, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Last year, Erasmus brought Koch back into the Springbok squad ahead of the home matches against Australia and New Zealand. Koch went on to feature – from the bench – in the Tests against the All Blacks, France, Scotland and Wales.
At the time, Koch said that there was a healthy competition for places in the match 23. Tightheads such as Frans Malherbe, Wilco Louw and Trevor Nyakane were part of the larger squad, and yet Erasmus felt Koch deserved another opportunity with the Boks.
Fast forward to the present. Koch was deployed from the bench in the 29th minute of the Champions Cup final between Leinster and Saracens. The reserve tighthead put in a big shift at the set pieces and on defence to help Saracens triumph.
What caught the eye, however, was Koch’s work around the park. The Saracens prop made two crucial breakdown turnovers, as well as a linebreak.
The Boks will need such all-rounders at the World Cup in Japan. Coaches can’t afford to gamble on weak scrummagers at a tournament of this nature. On the other hand, modern props are also expected to contribute as ball carriers and breakdown bandits.
Who will crack the nod in Erasmus’ World Cup squad? Most sides tend to include two looseheads, two tightheads, one swing-prop and three hookers in their front-row ranks. Erasmus, however, will have some tough calls to make in the tighthead department.
Malherbe packed down at No 3 in the big games at the 2015 World Cup. Wilco Louw boasts a reputation as a strong scrummager, but is yet to realise his potential in other areas.
At this stage, Trevor Nyakane appears to be the favourite for the swinger role – a player who can cover loosehead and tighthead. The Sharks have been using Thomas du Toit in both positions, though, and we may see the Tank joining the Boks in Japan if Nyakane breaks down with injury.
Unlike the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament, the European competition embraces a style and pace similar to that of Test rugby. Koch’s success in the Champions Cup final was a statement regarding what he can offer the Boks in a tight match.
The Sale Sharks recently confirmed the signing of another multi-talented tighthead in Coenie Oosthuizen. Carlu Sadie has produced some game-shaping performances at the scrum this season, and may also be worth a look if there are a number of injuries between now and the World Cup.
The pressure is on the incumbents to respond. Malherbe and Louw should be looking to prove a point in the coming weeks.
BOK INJURY LIST*
|TRAVIS ISMAIEL||Wing||Shoulder||Late June|
|JESSE KRIEL||Centre||Ankle||Late June|
|PIETER-STEPH DU TOIT||Flank||Shoulder||This week|
|LOOD DE JAGER||Lock||Shoulder||Early July|
|BEAST MTAWARIRA||Prop||Knee||Early June|
*Bok players used in 2018 season
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images