Allister ‘fixes’ … just not bumbling back 3!

Andries Coetzee (Gallo)
Andries Coetzee (Gallo)

Cape Town – So what do we call it? A morbid fascination?

READ: Pollard starts as Jantjies axed for France Test

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee, to his credit, on Thursday acknowledged the overdue need to significantly shake the selection bag as he named his match-day squad for the challenge of France in Paris on Saturday night (22:00 SA time).

But a quick fix from the 38-3 woes suffered against Ireland last weekend also seems well less than guaranteed … most particularly because the consistently weakest area of the team, the back three, stays inexplicably intact.

Yes, increasingly long-suffering Bok fans are stuck with the hitherto oomph-lacking, defensively vulnerable collective combo of fullback Andries Coetzee and wings Courtnall Skosan and Dillyn Leyds.

As individuals, they do sporadic good things for the cause and have been dangerous Super Rugby players often enough, but as a Test group the trio (in fairness to Leyds, he is a slightly more recent infusion) continually struggle this year to rate anything beyond average, and often at very best.

The issue arguably reached a nadir at Aviva Stadium, where the Irish targeted, sometimes with very decisive and punishing effect, the Bok back three with wily tactical kicks and in other ways.

There was simply no truly commanding, assuring figure among them as the hosts greedily bossed far too many contestable balls in the air.

Already, there are 26 international caps between Coetzee, Skosan and Leyds and yet at no stage has any single of them yet produced, I would submit, a truly compelling all-round showing over 80 minutes that screams – or even whispers -- “world class”.

So there is a strong case for suspecting – though it would be great to be proved wrong at Stade de France – that “Toetie”, in his raft of alterations, may have repaired some parts of his machine that weren’t even too violently broken, while leaving dangerously loose bolts in others.

The national coach has been absurdly generous, and patient, with the fullback and wings, all the while running the risk of demoralising any alternative candidates positively itching by now to show what they can do.

It is true that different options for the berths in the touring squad are pretty limited: for example, desperately few observers would enthuse over a return to Raymond Rhule, given his recent record in the green and gold.

But there are also some skilful all-round footballers in the broader ranks with either proven specialist, or acceptably versatile, claims to occupying any of jerseys 11, 14 and 15.

Into that category fall Curwin Bosch, Warrick Gelant, Jesse Kriel (retained at outside centre this weekend despite palpably unremarkable form there) and maybe even the currently luckless Lukhanyo Am, who presents admirable physical relish in midfield and could feasibly transfer that to a wider spot if asked.

I just felt the Boks needed to try something – anything! – to pep up that thoroughly unconvincing department.

And they haven’t.

There will also be some raised eyebrows over the survival at scrumhalf for the time being of labouring Ross Cronje, now swelling further the trend of Rudy Paige generally only being trusted to remove his tracksuit with 10 minutes or fewer left on the clock.

But at least an opportunity has been created just outside of Cronje to try a more robust, direct sort of character at flyhalf in Handre Pollard, who makes a welcome comeback in a starting role.

Really poor against Ireland, Damian de Allende is perhaps fortunate to keep a place on the “splinters” this time, although Cheetahs stalwart Francois Venter will no doubt wish to look more assertive in a midfield recall than he did in a trio of losses on last year’s Euro venture against England, Italy and Wales.

The big – albeit expected, for several days – restoration to the pack of rugged, experienced No 8 Duane Vermeulen is a satisfying and potentially morale-lifting development, and “Toetie” also deserves a laurel for promoting Dan du Preez to the substitutes for a possible maiden cap – an intelligent acknowledgement that Vermeulen may not fire yet at optimal levels for a full match.

Du Preez is also a “proper” eighth-man; hopefully we are seeing the end of makeshift Bok figures in what is an important, spinal position in a rugby team.

So it’s not all bad.

But this Springbok side somehow retains a palpable sense of insecurity on paper, especially behind the scrum …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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