Johannesburg - Forgotten Springbok Johan Goosen’s return in from the cold could take an interesting turn with the Racing Metro fullback being widely touted to fill Willie le Roux’s boots for the upcoming Rugby Championship.
According to SuperSport website, Goosen hasn’t been seen in a Springbok jersey since 2014 and his two year hiatus has seen him grow incredibly well as a player in France playing alongside Dan Carter for his French paymasters over the past few seasons.
Goosen’s return to form and his versatility – he has played both at 13 and 15 for Racing in the past few seasons, brought him back onto the radar and he is now the favourite to line up for the Boks when they open their Rugby Championship account in Nelspruit on August 20.
Le Roux’s decision to leave for Japan – perhaps a good one given his current form – will allow Goosen’s former teammate to have time to work on his game, and hopefully have a rest after playing non-stop since he burst onto the scene in 2013. While we all know what Le Roux can do when he is in form, there will be few who will argue his current form is a shadow of the player that took the world by storm a few years ago.
Which leaves the fullback position wide open at the moment, with three decent candidates available to fill the position with versatility on the side of all three of them to give coach Allister Coetzee some interesting options ahead of this year’s competition.
Ruan Combrinck’s arrival on the scene and his current status as incumbent wing may mean Coetzee is already blessed with something his predecessor Heyneke Meyer didn’t have – a variety of kicking options at the back.
The All Blacks have shown that by fielding two fullbacks in their back three, they back their own kicking game and are able to counter from deep, giving them more options than a traditional trio with two wingers and a fullback.
Combrinck can double up in the fullback role if needed, but to have him and another fullback in the last line of defence can never be a bad thing for the Boks and his enthusiasm and form currently make him a popular choice for the starting line-up.
Of course, Coetzee can always hand him the 15 jersey if needed but the indications are already there that Combrinck will stay in his 14 jersey with Goosen likely to fill the 15 role at least for the first two tests against Argentina.
The third option is the wildcard - with Jesse Kriel’s recent move back to the position where he became a Springbok proving to be a good one for both himself and his Bulls Super Rugby team in the closing stages of this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby competition.
Coetzee may well decide the Bulls utility back is a good fit for the back three but at this stage, Goosen’s big boot from the back may well shade the decision.
“Johan, Ruan and Jesse give us options at the back,” Coetzee admitted when asked about the fullback position.
“The most important thing about our fullback is his positional play and assisting the back three. The old wings strengths setup there in order to support defence – when to be up, when to be back.
“Goosen has been outstanding in Europe, not just from behind but as a 13 and as a 10. Playing alongside Daniel Carter has helped him a lot.”
Coetzee pointed out a lesson the Boks learnt in their tough series against Ireland, the fact that the Irish pinned them down and won the territory battle by exploiting the lack of a right-footed kicker, targeting Lwazi Mvovo in the process. This isn’t a mistake that the coaching team are likely to make again and with Elton Jantjies and Faf de Klerk both assured of their roles in the next two tests, and both being left-footed, Coetzee is likely to look rather to a bit more versatility when making his decision on the team to face the Pumas.
“But you’re sitting alongside a right-footed, left-footed combination if you have Goosen or Combrinck there and Elton at flyhalf as a left-footer,” he added.
“That is where we were bogged down in the first test against Ireland, we had Faf, Willie and Elton, all left-footed kickers – and Lwazi – four left footed kickers in our team.
“Therefore most of the kicks were down the left hand side. The balance is right, the combination is right with those sort of kickers.”
His admission that Goosen will come into the selection frame initially only as a 15 makes the insinuation the French-based player will play only stronger.
And the hope is that Goosen can recapture some of the form that took his club to the Top 14 title, and the European Cup final in order to help the Boks navigate what will be a tough Rugby Championship.