Boks stay too frail in outside backs

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

Cape Town – There is sufficient quality and depth in certain positions, and especially at forward, to suggest that the Springboks may have a chipper enough end-of-year tour.

But enduring vulnerability on paper in virtually every berth outside of the flyhalf spot also offers up the considerable risk that the four-Test venture goes unacceptably pear-shaped.

Bottom line, I fear, from his 34-strong party revealed without major surprises or special inspiration on Sunday: Allister Coetzee stays way too kind to a handful of mediocre (at best, based on prior international showings) souls in these areas, a situation that may only keep his grip on his head-coach status pretty tenuous.

It is true that injuries to the likes of powerful young wing S’bu Nkosi and the versatile Ruan Combrinck made his selection task more challenging, whilst it also unhelpful given present backline angst that senior centre Jan Serfontein (35 caps) will instead bed down with new club employers Montpellier while the Boks slog their way through Europe.

Serfontein had started every Test for the Boks earlier in the 2017 season, and was described by Coetzee as his go-to man in the inside channel when they clinched the home series against France in June.

Who the coach “goes to” now for the key strategic spot – Ireland are the taxing first hurdle in Dublin on November 11 -- is an interesting matter: both the recalled Francois Venter and uncapped Lukhanyo Am offer possibilities there, albeit that they have mostly played in the wider slot this season.

There is still Damian de Allende, a Bok since 2014, although he has flat-lined for a couple of seasons and not started for the country since the disastrous loss to Italy in Firenze on last year’s equivalent European trek.

But he has the physical credentials (101kg, 1.89m) for the usually slower northern surfaces, and that could be important as there are few notable muscle-men outside of No 12 amidst the Bok party.

Similarly, one of the three flyhalves in the group, Handre Pollard, has Dan Carter-like potential to adapt to inside centre, even if he has played precious little rugby for protracted spells in recent weeks.

There remain some wishy-washy names, frankly, among the wings and fullbacks; a few domestic players will be bemused – that may be putting it mildly -- by the ongoing fascination with Raymond Rhule, so exposed defensively in several Tests already.

Now Stormers-bound, he is an even more bizarre choice when you consider how better suited he is, with his primary asset of pace, to harder pitches: northern hemisphere matches tend to require wings with sound kicking games, a relish for scrapping at close quarters and real tackling prowess.

A small mercy is the well-deserved call-up for fleet-footed Bulls fullback Warrick Gelant, who should put real heat on the generally safe but often unexciting Andries Coetzee.

Lions enthusiasts, meanwhile, will doubtless frown over the non-selection of either of their impactful midfielders, Harold Vorster or Rohan Janse van Rensburg.

The most notable exclusion among the forwards, arguably, is WP’s Nizaam Carr.

The 26-year-old has been outstanding at eighth-man in the critical closing weeks of the Currie Cup, culminating in glory for his team on Saturday … and this in a berth where Coetzee has a weird penchant for trying out non-specialists while Warren Whiteley and Duane Vermeulen remain ruled out.

A lifeline for Carr may come if Jean-Luc du Preez is withdrawn, after the brawny customer’s untimely ankle injury in the Kings Park domestic final, although there have also been whispers that tearaway Kwagga Smith – a very different specimen -- is bubbling under.

The Boks are currently blessed with seriously good locks and props, and that is reason alone not to rule out the prospect of the team marauding through Europe – and conveniently skirting England, remember – unbeaten.

But will Coetzee get his all-important tighthead anchor-man pecking order right?

There are three to choose from, and I am probably not alone in hoping the first cab off the rank is emerging WP sensation Wilco Louw (quite immense in Durban on Saturday, and that against Thomas du Toit), followed by fit-again Coenie Oosthuizen as the appealing impact man, and then technically-troubled Ruan Dreyer bringing up the rear as a “tackle bags” guy initially …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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