Boks: Koch deserves crack at Loftus

Vincent Koch (Gallo Images)
Vincent Koch (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Whether Vincent Koch vaults straight into the starting line-up or earns some game-time off the bench, the Saracens-based tighthead prop deserves to feature in Saturday’s Springbok 23 for their closing Rugby Championship Test against confirmed winners New Zealand in Pretoria.

READ: Rob Houwing's Bok ratings

He looks one of the likeliest Bok squad members from the current fringes to be summoned to action at Loftus for the host team, now assured of runners-up status after the heartening successive victories in Wellington (All Blacks) and Port Elizabeth (Australia).

While fitness-related updates on some players early in the lead-up week could also influence coach Rassie Erasmus’s selection - most of the starting XV from the 23-12 triumph against the Wallabies were workmanlike and committed at very least - Koch should be particularly eager to get involved at Loftus.

He was flown in a few days ago by Erasmus, missing Sarries’ 50-27 home thumping of Bath in the English Premiership on Saturday, but did not make the match squad against Australia, incumbent first-choice at No 3 Frans Malherbe being backed up among the substitutes by young Stormers colleague Wilco Louw.

Malherbe played 63 minutes of the PE clash, before making way for his younger deputy, and neither man quite managed to get a dominating head of steam at scrum-time, where the Wallabies pretty comfortably held their own.

But the starting tighthead did get through plenty of credible, unglamorous work on defence; he is especially effective when the Boks are under the cosh very close to their own try-line.

That said, Malherbe has now begun all five Championship Tests for the Boks to this point, as well as the last two Tests of the England series in June, so maybe a spot of “rotation” in Pretoria would be in longer-term interests for the SA brains trust.

Whichever way around they are employed, perhaps Malherbe and Koch is the way to go for tighthead needs against the All Blacks?

Bear in mind that the world champions are highly likely to field a well-rested veteran at No 3 in Pretoria: the 102-cap Crusaders stalwart Owen Franks played no part in the title-clinching 35-17 victory over Argentina in Buenos Aires, where coach Steve Hansen also cocooned a few other “first-choices” for the Highveld revenge opportunity over the Boks.

New Zealand began with Ofa Tu’ungafasi in the position against the Pumas, for just his first start in 21 Test appearances.

Koch has nine caps, but last featured for South Africa in the shock 20-18 loss to Italy in Firenze in late 2016 - altogether more dispiriting times for the Boks.

He is nevertheless an assertive scrummager when he really puts his mind to it and can be a near-unstoppable carrier close to the enemy try-line.

It would be just a little strange if he goes back to England after this fortnight in the Bok camp without any match exposure at all.

On the other side of the front row, Steven Kitshoff seems favoured to reclaim the loosehead prop starting jersey in Pretoria from eternally close rival Tendai Mtawarira; he outshone the seasoned campaigner at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in his 37 minutes off the splinters.  

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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