Midfield answers elude Boks

Allister Coetzee continues to limit his midfield options by selecting a squad that excludes the likes of Frans Steyn and Rohan Janse van Rensburg, writes JON CARDINELLI.

Last week, Coetzee named a 31-man Springbok squad for the two home Tests against Australia and New Zealand. The inclusion of Pat Lambie and Willie le Roux will provide cover at flyhalf and fullback respectively. The ongoing exclusion of Frans Steyn and Janse van Rensburg, however, will leave the Boks thin in midfield, especially at No 12.

At present, the Boks have four specialist centres in the squad, namely Damian de Allende, Juan de Jongh, Jesse Kriel and Lionel Mapoe. Johan Goosen is another who could be used at No 13, a position he has played with some success for his club Racing 92 in recent times.

Coetzee has experimented with two midfield combinations in the first seven Tests of the 2016 season. Neither of these has flourished. While the struggles of the backline can be linked in part to the inconsistency of the forwards, it has been evident that the Boks desperately need a No 12 who can get them over the advantage line.

SARugbymag.co.za takes a look at Coetzee’s existing options ahead of the must-win Test against the Wallabies, as well as a couple of combinations that could thrive if certain players were recalled to the squad.

(Players in the current squad who have started together in midfield at Test level)

De Allende and Mapoe
The pair started the first five Tests of the year, and failed to make the desired impact on attack and defence. De Allende has battled for form at Super Rugby and Test level this season, both as a strike runner and defender.

De Jongh and Kriel
Coetzee worked closely with De Jongh when he was head coach of the Stormers, and has always been a fan of De Jongh’s attacking skill set. That said, it came as a surprise when De Jongh, who has played most of his rugby at No 13, was selected to man the No 12 channel for the recent Tests against Australia and New Zealand. Kriel has battled on defence in that key No 13 channel since he was first trialled there in 2015.

De Allende and Kriel
Last year, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen stated that the 10-12-13 combination of Handré Pollard, De Allende and Kriel represented the future of Bok rugby. However, that comment was made with the players' attacking prowess in mind, and the questions they asked of the New Zealand defence in the 2015 Rugby Championship. The defence of that Pollard-De Allende-Kriel combination was suspect even back then, and De Allende and Kriel were routinely exposed in midfield.

(Players in the current squad who are yet to start together in midfield at Test level)

De Allende and De Jongh
While No 13 is De Jongh’s best position, he has never convinced when asked to man that defensive channel at Test level. What these two players do have in their favour is that they have played as a combination for the Stormers since 2013.

De Jongh and Goosen
Goosen can offer the Boks outstanding attacking and kicking options from the No 13 position, just as he did for Racing 92 in the 2015-2016 European season. His impact may be limited, however, due to De Jongh’s struggles at No 12. What’s more, Goosen has never started a Test at No 13, and so doesn’t have any experience of defending against a world-class attack in that channel.

De Allende and Goosen
This is a combination that appears to have it all on paper, with De Allende boasting the size and strength to get over the gainline, and Goosen possessing all the necessary handling and kicking skills to complement a hard-running, physical No 12. The primary shortcoming of this combination would be its lack of experience on defence.

(Players from outside the current squad who could strengthen the midfield combination and give the Boks more options on attack and defence)

Janse van Rensburg
Janse van Rensburg was the standout South African No 12 in the recent Super Rugby competition. A powerfully built player, Janse van Rensburg looked after his channel on defence, and together with Mapoe, he enjoyed plenty of attacking success. Sooner or later, Coetzee has to consider backing Janse van Rensburg and Mapoe in tandem.

Frans Steyn
Frans Steyn won the 2007 World Cup and the 2009 Tri-Nations with the Boks. While he hasn't played a Test since 2012, he's impressed while featuring for Montpellier in the European leagues. Few players offer the complete package of experience, attacking and defensive strengths, and a world-class kicking game.

Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images

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Jon Cardinelli