Super Rugby

Lions can press home Bok claims

Allister Coetzee (Gallo Images)
Allister Coetzee (Gallo Images)

Johannesburg - Springbok coach Allister Coetzee is likely to be under increased pressure to play a more expansive game plan and fit in more players from the Lions when he selects his side for this year’s Rugby Championship in a few weeks time.

According to the website, Coetzee, who ground out a series win against Ireland, will know more than ever that the stakes ahead of facing the Southern Hemisphere rivals are bigger than when he took the job, with a public hungry for success.

And having negotiated the Ireland series with narrow wins in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth, the Boks need to start taking shape under his tenure and Coetzee has some tough choices ahead of his next squad selection.

For one, the chorus of cries for more Lions players is likely to get louder while Coetzee needs somehow to try and turn around the fact his first choice players have not all performed at Super Rugby level and many look bereft of direction and form at the moment.

There are some good aspects to the way Super Rugby has ended, much in the fact that some of the squad will have a well-earned rest, but the growing roar of Lions players means that Coetzee needs to find some sort of balance when tempering expectation with the way the Springboks need to play in the Rugby Championship.

While their first fixture on August 20 seems a far way away for the Boks at the moment, the Nelspruit opener poses a tricky proposition, especially as Argentina won their first game in Durban and after a season where many of their players were involved in the Jaguares in Super Rugby, will have less trepidation about facing the Boks first up.

In fact, the Argentineans will eye the performances against the Irish and feel they could well get a second win against a Bok team that will be under heavy pressure to perform.

The Bok coach will be under a lot of pressure to pick more Lions’ players, especially those who are knocking hard on the door, while some injuries will also force some interesting changes to the team when it is named.

Just ask in any rugby loving home across the country if the likes of Malcolm Marx at hooker, Rohan Janse van Rensburg in the midfield or a host of other Lions players should be considered and the answer is likely to be a resounding yes. But whether Coetzee will have place for these players waits to be seen, even though the cries for inclusion could well become deafening if the Lions end up in the final and even go on to win the competition.

That may still be a far way away, but Coetzee would be foolish not to take some of the exuberance that has seen the Lions become SA’s best bet in the tournament and let it flow through to the national team.

The confidence that is oozing out of the Lions camp at the moment is definitely infectious and would serve well to inspire some of the other players who have been struggling along.

Marx and Van Rensburg in particular, are knocking hard on the door, while Coetzee will also have the luxury of having some of the Sevens players available as well as their Olympic tournament would be over then.

The continuing worry over the form of Willie le Roux - who continues to struggle for consistency and is a shadow of the player who burst onto the scene in 2013 - is very worrying, as is the declining confidence of players such as Lwazi Mvovo and Damian de Allende, who both struggled over the weekend.

On the positive side Coetzee will have another option in Jesse Kriel, whose return to fullback has been exceptional and showcased in a small part the skills he can offer at international level, and the Sevens returnees will see that Cheslin Kolbe is also an option, despite reservations about his size at international level.

In the end though De Allende is likely to be the most under pressure, with Janse van Rensburg and Juan de Jongh both options for Coetzee to consider, and both with the ability to step into the midfield and partner Lionel Mapoe with relative ease.

The Lions players will remind Coetzee in the coming weeks of their form - they have centre stage on their own while the rest of the players rest and prepare for the Currie Cup.

But if they do happen to beat three New Zealand sides in a row on the way to the title, or even two on their way to the final, Coetzee would find it tough not to reward that form, and use that psychological advantage when the team assembles for the Nelspruit game.

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