Allister Coetzee has to be brave enough to make bold selections for the Springboks’ end-of-year tour, including calling up Cheetahs wing Sergeal Petersen and overseas-based Frans Steyn, JP Pietersen, Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Burger, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Following the Boks’ thrashing at the hands of the All Blacks in Durban, Coetzee appeared to be out of answers. He acknowledged that serious introspection was required after a historic defeat condemned the national side to another embarrassment
Coetzee also admitted that he would need to look at options to bolster the squad, but also went on to say: 'Trust me, there aren’t that many other options out there.'
Yet, that isn’t entirely true. From next season, SA Rugby surely needs to take a decisive stance on their policies regarding the selection of overseas-based players, but in the here and now, Coetzee simply has to recall some big-name stalwarts.
At the top of that list must be Duane Vermeulen. The big No 8 may have angered some of the powers-that-be as a result of his no-nonsense comments recently regarding the Boks and SA rugby, but all parties should be willing to acknowledge that he can be part of the solution.
Vermeulen has been the heart and soul of the Bok pack and defensive system for the better part of the last four years, and his impassioned plea for changes to be made to the state of the game only indicates his immense passion for the green and gold.
SA Rugby needs to engage with a leader such as that and now find a way to ensure that he walks the talk.
There is another ‘controversial’ figure plying his trade in France who SA Rugby desperately needs to reopen communication lines with: Frans Steyn.
The fact that one of the most talented players to emerge from South Africa has remained in the international wilderness since his last appearance in 2012 is a damning indictment.
At 29 years old, Steyn continues to add immense value at Montpellier, and has a good couple of years of rugby still in him. Should the leaders in SA Rugby put pride aside and begin to engage with him about their desire for him to contribute meaningfully to the Bok cause, I can’t imagine he would be unwilling or unable.
Similarly, the Boks must consider recalling Schalk Burger for the end-of-year tour, with the former Stormers captain having the ability to add much-needed leadership and experience to the loose-trio ranks.
And in a season when the Boks’ lack of options on the wing have been exposed, Leicester’s JP Pietersen simply has to come back into the reckoning. Among just the four mentioned players, Coetzee has 245 Test caps at his disposal.
Yet, the Bok coach doesn’t only have to look abroad. This past weekend’s two entertaining Currie Cup semi-finals provided a brief bright light in a dark time for South African rugby.
Of all the individual performers, none shone brighter than young Sergeal Petersen. The exciting winger made his return from injury and made all the difference to the Cheetahs.
Boasting bucketloads of X factor and pace, Petersen set the Free State stadium alight with a hat-trick of tries, while he created another and lost the ball forward with the tryline at his mercy on a separate occasion.
This was not just a once-off performance, though. Petersen has been on the South African rugby radar ever since scoring the Southern Kings’ first-ever try during their Super Rugby debut season in 2013.
This year, he went on to produce some glittering performances for the Cheetahs in Super Rugby, while there was none better than Saturday’s sparkling effort in a high-pressure knockout clash.
After the match, Johan Ackermann – who coached Petersen while with the SA A side earlier this year – said he had no doubt that the 22-year-old was ready for Test rugby.
‘People can look for faults, but I would definitely give him the chance,' he commented.
The same could well be said for the Bulls’ Jamba Ulengo, or Cheetahs captain Francois Venter.
In less than a month, the Boks will take on England at Twickenham. It’s time to be bold because there is nothing to lose. But there are players that can breathe some much-needed new life into the Boks, and none more so than the prodigiously talented Petersen.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images