Loose trio is Coetzee's biggest headache

Siya Kolisi (Gallo)
Siya Kolisi (Gallo)

Cape Town - When Springbok coach Allister Coetzee addresses the media on Thursday to name his side for Saturday's Loftus Versfeld clash against the French, there will be a significant interest in who he opts for in his loose trio. 

While predicting most of this Bok team, especially the backline, is relatively straight-forward there are a couple of positions in the pack where the under-pressure coach might spring a surprise or two. 

In the front row, for example, Coetzee could opt for Steven Kitshoff at loosehead ahead of Tendai Mtawarira while at tighthead he must choose between Ruan Dreyer, Frans Malherbe and Coenie Oosthuizen.

But since the news broke that Duane Vermeulen would not be available for Saturday - or any part of the series - there has been a renewed interest in what plan Coetzee will come up with to ensure that his loose trio has the right blend of physicality, skill and an ability to win ball on the ground. 

With new skipper Warren Whiteley set to start at No 8, Vermeulen would have had to shift No 7 if he was to be included.

But while Vermeulen has played all 37 of his Test matches in the No 8 jersey, a move to the side of the scrum not only seemed doable, but potentially beneficial to the Bok cause. 

It was a way of accommodating both Whiteley and Vermeulen with the latter's experience and strength - both on the ground and in contact - suggesting that he could make the transition easily. 

Having the muscle of Vermeulen in the pack would also have given Coetzee the luxury of selecting the closest thing the Boks have to an out-and-out fetcher in Jaco Kriel. 

But now, with Vermeulen out of the series, what does Coetzee do? 

The popular call has been to give Siya Kolisi the No 7 jersey. The Stormers skipper has been in superb form this season and looks more than ready for an extended run in the green and gold. 

But does he bring the same physicality - on both defence and attack - that Vermeulen brings? And, if he doesn't, is a loose trio of Whiteley/Kolisi/Kriel perhaps a bit lightweight? 

There are, of course, other options. 

Hopefully we won't see Pieter-Steph du Toit moved to flank again, but Coetzee also has Jean-Luc du Preez and Oupa Mohoje at his disposal. 

The selection of either of those players would immediately give the loose trio an injection of muscle. 

While Mohoje has been criticised heavily this season based on his Super Rugby form with the Cheetahs, he remains a player who can hit the opposition back with crunching tackles, while he is always keen to take contact with ball in hand.

He played in seven of the 12 Tests last year and while the Boks were horrible for the most part, Mohoje often emerged as a shining light, particularly when looking at his defensive contributions and statistics.  

The highly-rated Du Preez, meanwhile, has been fantastic for the Sharks this year. He is big, powerful and thrives on contact. It is hard to see the 21-year-old not having a bright Bok future.

But will Coetzee be prepared to turn to him right now, particularly considering he wasn't part of the original Bok squad and was only called-up once question marks arose over Vermeulen's late arrival in the country?

The feeling is that the rugby public at large would applaud this call, but it remains a brave one for a coach who is under so much pressure.

The Bok backline will be inexperienced regardless of whom is selected, and Coetzee might be hesitant to replace Vermeulen with a man who has one Test cap to his name.

There is no doubt the Vermeulen muscle would have given a Whiteley-led loose trio some much-needed balance, but with him gone the plot thickens. 

For my money, Coetzee will sacrifice some of that muscle and go Whiteley/Kolisi/Kriel when he names his side at 14:00 on Thursday. 

All three of those players have been seriously good this year, so it would be hard to fault that selection.

After all, size isn't everything... 

Follow Sport24 journalist @LloydBurnard on Twitter ...

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
What is your favourite sport to watch on TV?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
42% - 8825 votes
11% - 2260 votes
19% - 4040 votes
2% - 521 votes
1% - 187 votes
2% - 488 votes
5% - 1032 votes
9% - 1783 votes
3% - 719 votes
Water sports
1% - 195 votes
American sports
1% - 260 votes
3% - 657 votes