The Boks boast a backline that looks far better balanced for this Saturday’s Test against the All Blacks at Kings Park, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Durban.
If one goes back to the first Test of the season against Ireland at the beginning of June, there are just two players who have retained their same starting positions for the Boks’ final Rugby Championship encounter: Faf de Klerk and Damian de Allende.
Interestingly, though, De Klerk has only returned to the No 9 berth as a result of the concussion suffered by Rudy Paige, while Damian de Allende’s return comes after an injury to Jesse Kriel forced a midfield reshuffle.
It’s revealing that the Boks could well have finished this part of the season with a completely new-look backline if it weren’t for the injury-enforced changes, but irrespective, coach Allister Coetzee does appear to have got his selections right for this match.
Besides the fact that the pack has established some much-needed continuity, the selection of De Klerk at scrumhalf was the least disruptive option, while also affording the Lions star a ‘second chance’ to prove why he deserved to start the season as the first-choice halfback.
Experienced Morné Steyn should continue to provide accurate game management from flyhalf, while Pat Lambie will have shaken off a bit of rustiness after last weekend’s outing at fullback.
And although the Boks have lost Paige and Kriel to injury, it’s a massive boost that Bryan Habana has been able to overcome a thigh injury. However, what has almost gone unnoticed is that a key positional switch sees him return to his favoured left wing spot, while Hougaard will start his fourth consecutive Test out wide.
Perhaps most importantly, though, the Boks finally appear to have the right balance to their midfield. In recent weeks, they have desperately lacked the physicality of a direct-running inside centre, and one way or another, Damian de Allende will provide this impact.
Beyond that, Juan de Jongh makes an overdue return to his best position at outside centre, where his defensive organisation and quick feet on attack will benefit the Boks far more.
At a function in Umhlanga this week, former Springbok captain and centre Jean de Villiers – who experienced the challenges of transitioning between 12 and 13 – said he had no doubt De Jongh was better suited to outside centre.
‘Juan is a good strike runner, and maybe his distribution skills are not quite there for a 12, while Damian is also bigger. He can fill that role of a battering ram if need be, and he can do a good job there. It’s about establishing how you want to play and then selecting accordingly.’
With this in mind, De Villiers said that there certainly looked to be a better balance to a Bok midfield that included two players with different strengths that would complement each other.
‘It makes more sense from a combination point of view. I’ve always held the view that you have to select combinations, and not just individuals. Some of the combinations we’ve had this year probably haven’t combined well. The only proven centre combination at international level has been Damian and Jesse, but they haven’t started together this year. However, at Super Rugby level, Damian and Juan have played together, so that should help them.’
Saturday's Test between the Boks and All Blacks at Kings Park will kick off at 17:00.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images