Willie can wing it for Boks

The release of specialist winger Lwazi Mvovo once again highlights the Boks’ desperately limited options out wide, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Johannesburg.

Since the start of the Test season, the lack of continuity, cohesion and impact from the Boks’ back three has been a real problem area.

Willie le Roux and JP Pietersen slotted in at fullback and wing respectively for the June series against Ireland, but the duo battled to find their best form, and were subsequently omitted from the original Rugby Championship squad.

At the time, Allister Coetzee suggested it was to provide them with a ‘break’ of sorts as they headed off to join their overseas clubs. In a sense, though, they had been deemed surplus to requirements.

Mvovo initially started on the left wing against Ireland, but some of his aerial and defensive shortcomings were shown up early on, and his place was duly taken by Ruan Combrinck, who then suffered an unfortunate injury in the Boks’ second Rugby Championship Test.

For the last two Tests, a new back three has seen Johan Goosen start at fullback, and Francois Hougaard on the wing, both with limited results, while Bryan Habana has slotted in at 14. The stalwart has added much-needed experience to the backline, and been one of the Boks’ real workhorses, but he has also had to play in the less familiar right-wing position.

There is now the possibility that the Boks could make another change to their back three for this Saturday’s Test against the Wallabies. Faf de Klerk has been inconsistent at Test level, and that may open the door for Hougaard to make the move back to his preferred position at halfback, where his more solid defence around the fringes would be of value.

Should that be the case, the Boks would have little option but to start Le Roux or Jesse Kriel on the wing. There is simply no other specialist wing in the squad. However, Coetzee has said he has been pleased with the impact Kriel has made at outside centre, and it doesn’t appear as if there will be a change to the midfield combination between him and Juan de Jongh.

Could this mean a return to the wing for Le Roux, who last started there in 2013?

‘Willie will definitely cover wing, and fullback,’ Coetzee commented on Monday. ‘It’s great to have Willie back in the mix. He played 80 minutes for his club [the Canon Eagles] last week, and he’s looking comfortable. In fact, he looks more relaxed than we had him in camp last time, and I’m pleased to have him back.’

One thing Coetzee has made clear since the Boks’ loss to the All Blacks in Christchurch is that there will be consequences for poor performances, and that changes will be made in selection.

However, there have been minimal new additions to the squad, three others have been released, and now it just remains to be seen who faces the axe ahead of Saturday’s Test against the Wallabies at Loftus.

Photo: Paul Gilham/Getty Images

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Craig Lewis