Allister Coetzee could spring another surprise this week by naming Lood de Jager in the Springbok starting side ahead of Pieter-Steph du Toit. JON CARDINELLI reports form Nelspruit.
Coetzee is set to make five changes ahead of the first Rugby Championship Test against Argentina in Nelspruit. Julian Redelinghuys, Oupa Mohoje, Bryan Habana and Johan Goosen are all line to start in what will be a crucial game in the context of the Boks’ campaign.
Lood de Jager, who hasn’t played for South Africa since the first Test against Ireland on 11 June, is another who should front the Pumas this Saturday. De Jager called the lineouts and ran with the starting side when the team trained at the Mbombela Stadium on Tuesday morning.
Du Toit enjoyed an outstanding Super Rugby campaign, both as ball-carrier and contester at the lineout. In De Jager's injury-enforced absence, Du Toit started the last two Tests against Ireland in June, and was one of the few players who shone in an otherwise disappointing series for the hosts.
On Monday, Coetzee said that Duane Vermeulen's injury would force the Boks to reassess their options in the pack. Du Toit is now being viewed as blindside flank cover, and perhaps this has influenced the decision to play him off the bench against Argentina in Nelspruit.
The picture of the Bok starting XV ahead of the first Test against Argentina is clearer now than it was three days ago. The make-up of the bench, however, appears less so.
Coetzee said on Monday that loosehead Trevor Nyakane will not be considered for the coming game at the Mbombela Stadium. One would expect Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff and Vincent Koch to serve as the second-string front row this weekend.
It would make sense to persist with Jaco Kriel on the bench. At this point, there is no other player in the current mix who can cover Francois Louw at openside flank. Du Toit, Rudy Paige and Morné Steyn should offer good alternatives at lock, scrumhalf and flyhalf respectively. Du Toit will also provide cover at No 7.
Centre Juan de Jongh looks set to feature from the bench. If he takes the field this Saturday, it will mark his first Bok Test since 2012.
The Boks will need De Jongh to cover both midfield positions. While they have several No 13 options at present, only Damian de Allende and De Jongh have started a Test at No 12.
Coetzee may also be tempted to select a bench that includes six forwards and two backs. This would allow Franco Mostert to serve as the primary lock reserve, and Du Toit and Kriel to provide impetus as loose forwards later in the game.
In that scenario, Paige (scrumhalf cover) and De Jongh (inside and outside centre cover) would be the only backs on the bench. Goosen has the ability to cover flyhalf, outside centre and wing, while Ruan Combrinck could be utilised as a fullback if required.
Coetzee will name his match-day squad for the Test against Argentina on Thursday afternoon.
Probable Bok squad – 15 Johan Goosen, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Juan de Jongh.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images