Jaco Kriel is the obvious candidate to replace Francois Louw, but the injury to the Boks’ first-choice openside flanker may also precipitate a recall for Heinrich Brussow on the end-of-year tour, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In the aftermath of the Boks’ historic defeat to the All Blacks in Durban earlier this month, it almost went unnoticed that Louw had suffered a serious hamstring injury during the early stages of the encounter.
It’s robbed the Boks of another experienced northern hemisphere campaigner for their upcoming tour to the UK, while leaving them considerably short of options at openside flank.
Marcell Coetzee has been laid low since suffering a serious knee injury during the early stages of the Super Rugby season, and the now Ulster-based loose forward is only expected to return to action next year.
SARugbymag.co.za has also learned that Siya Kolisi, who could cover at openside, is still recovering from an ankle injury and is only expected to be fully fit midway through the Boks’ tour.
It’s left Allister Coetzee with limited options. Kriel served as the designated backup flanker to Louw throughout the Rugby Championship season, but it’s clear that he is still growing into his role as an opensider.
Earlier this year, Kriel told SA Rugby magazine that he was determined to hone his skills with the aim of becoming a specialist fetcher, but he also readily acknowledged that ball-carrying was his primary passion.
Kriel also only had limited game time during the Rugby Championship (199 minutes), with Coetzee preferring to deploy the Lions loose forward as an impact player.
The 26-year-old should be backed to step up into a starting role now, but the Boks may well be tempted to also call up a specialist openside flank in what would be far more of a like-for-like replacement for Louw.
In this regard, Brussow is a clear-cut candidate. The 30-year-old last played for the Boks in 2015, but remains a highly regarded performer for the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes in Japan.
A recall for Brussow would certainly boost the Boks’ ball-stealing ability, but it would be an interesting move in the sense that he is not the type of player who would appear well suited to an impact role.
However, there is no doubt that would add value at the breakdown, particularly in northern hemisphere conditions, with his ball-pilfering skills serving as some of the best in the game.
Another option for the Boks could have been to include Saracens-based Schalk Burger to provide further back-row cover, but it’s been reported that he is in fact not available for selection in 2016.
Talented Sikhumbuzo Notshe has formed part of the Bok set-up this season, and should be recalled to the squad for the end-of-year tour, but he is another versatile loose forward who is not best suited to a role at openside flank.
A leading local candidate could be Roelof Smit, who has impressed for the Bulls, but it would be a big ask for the youngster to make the jump up to Test level at this stage, while another bolter could be the Lions’ Kwagga Smith.
The Boks will kick off their tour with a clash against the Barbarians on 5 November before taking on England, Italy and Wales. Ahead of a challenging tour, the Boks could not afford to lose a player of Louw’s calibre, but it could well open the door for the likes of Kriel and Brussow to stake a claim for selection.
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