The Boks will have the limited option of having to turn to inexperienced Roelof Smit, Jean-Luc du Preez or Nizaam Carr to fill in at openside flank on their end-of-year tour, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
For all the Boks’ struggles this season, their cause has not been helped by a sequence of injuries to key players.
In particular, their loose-forward stocks have been depleted with untimely injuries to Siya Kolisi, Marcell Coetzee, Francois Louw and now Jaco Kriel.
So far this season, Louw has started every Test at openside flank, and while he hasn’t consistently produced his best form, his experience in northern hemisphere conditions would have been a boon to the Boks on their tour to Europe.
Nevertheless, there would have been some excitement to see how Kriel performed in his first Test start, but his absence means the Boks will be forced to essentially turn to a fifth or sixth-choice openside flank.
As it is, there has been talk that both Schalk Burger and Heinrich Brüssow are unavailable for national selection this year.
And for an end-of-year tour where Tests are so often won and lost through battles resembling trench warfare, there can be no denying the importance of a player who is capable of contesting at the breakdown.
It’s largely for this reason that Smit may well be in line to complete a remarkable elevation from Currie Cup star to starting Springbok.
The 23-year-old is the only remaining specialist openside flank in the squad, and is coming off a superb Currie cup season for the Blue Bulls, where he emerged as the top-ranked player for turnovers won (22).
However, it will now need to be determined whether he is ready to step up to Test rugby at this fledgling stage of his senior career.
Ultimately, Allister Coetzee appears to have little other option. A slightly more conservative pick could see him turn to Carr, who will now remain with the Boks after the Barbarians clash on 5 November, with the Stormers loose forward having at least won two previous caps with the Boks.
Yet, he is certainly not a like-for-like replacement for Louw, with the burly loose forward appearing better suited to the eighthman role.
A left-field option could see Coetzee gamble with the selection of Du Preez at No 6, where the Sharks flanker did feature for the SA A side against the England Saxons earlier this year.
Again, though, the fact remains that Du Preez appears to have the attributes more befitting a blindside flank, while this is the first year that the 21-year-old has been involved in senior rugby.
At the end of the day, Coetzee should turn to Smit in the absence of Louw and Kriel. He was the openside flanker who was clearly next in line when the Boks first named their original squad for the UK tour, but it’s a selection that would have been virtually unfathomable at the start of the year.
The opening clash with the Barbarians will at least provide the Boks with the opportunity to settle on a new combination and put plans in place ahead of the big Test to follow against England at Twickenham.
Regardless, the Boks’ options are extremely limited, with the mini injury crisis at openside flank doing them no favours at a time when they need all the help and good fortune that they can get.
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