While Allister Coetzee has yet to pick a Springbok captain, he has hinted that Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw will form part of the team’s leadership group. JON CARDINELLI reports.
On Saturday evening, Coetzee announced his Springbok squad for the upcoming Test series against Ireland. The 31-man group includes just three players based at overseas clubs, namely the uncapped Steven Kitshoff (Bordeaux) and the two veteran loose forwards, Vermeulen (Toulon) and Louw (Bath).
The new Bok coach said that these selections should serve as a message to all players hoping to play Test rugby for South Africa. Only in special circumstances will overseas-based players be considered for the Boks.
‘This is very important. If you want to be a Bok, you have to play within the boundaries of this country. That said, I have got the go-ahead to pick a few players based overseas who I feel will add value to the group,’ said Coetzee.
‘Duane and Flo will bring some experience to the squad. This is a new era for Bok rugby, and we’ve just lost four or five leaders to either retirement or injury since the last World Cup [Jean de Villiers, Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez and Schalk Burger].
‘This is what I needed to consider when selecting a squad for the Ireland series. I want to bring in the players for the future, but I also want to ensure that there is some experience in the form of players like Duane and Flo.’
Coetzee has delayed the naming of his captain until the lead-up to the first Test at Newlands. While the coach feels strongly that a national captain should live and play in South Africa, he did not rule out the possibility of backing an overseas-based skipper for the Ireland series.
‘When I was appointed on 12 April, I made it clear that I wanted a captain who could help the national side win Test matches. That is the most important thing for me, and it is a decision that I will not take lightly.
‘Now that the squad has been selected, I will select three or four players in the leadership group and we will meet on Sunday. The captain for the series against Ireland will come from that group.
‘It’s important for me to spend some time with these players before making the decision. I want a captain who understands my philosophy, who can serve as an extension of me on the field. Ideally you’d want a captain to be based in South Africa, but there’s a chance even then that somebody based overseas will need to take over [in the event of the captain leaving the field with injury].’
Vermeulen served as captain during Coetzee’s last season with the Stormers in 2015. If not for the issue of Vermeulen being based in France, the powerful No 8 would be the obvious choice for the captaincy.
Louw has been mentioned as a strong candidate. Both he and Vermeulen have formed part of the Bok leadership group since 2013. Louw has experience in the position having led his club, Bath, in the past.
Locally, Pat Lambie, Adriaan Strauss and Warren Whiteley all lead their respective franchises and have been touted as national captain options. Strauss seems the strongest candidate of the three as he commands a starting place in the Bok team. Lambie may have to ride the bench if flyhalf Elton Jantjies is passed fit for the Ireland series. Whiteley, who didn’t go to the 2015 World Cup, is less established at Test level, and may have to play understudy to Vermeulen.
Of course, Strauss may not have commanded a starting place if Bismarck du Plessis was still in the national picture. Du Plessis was the Boks’ first-choice hooker between 2012 and 2015, and has since turned in some influential performances for French club Montpellier. While Du Plessis’s omission from Coetzee’s squad comes as a surprise, it should allow Strauss to make the No 2 jersey his own.
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