Cape Town – Quite possibly for the remainder of the 2014
international season, Marcell Coetzee may be tasked with confirming that he
really is next best option for the Springboks as specialist open-side flanker.
The virtually undisputed first choice in the berth, as things
stand, is Bath-based Francois Louw, but his neck injury sustained against the
All Blacks in Wellington recently is likely to see him sidelined for the
remainder of the Test roster this year.
Bok team doctor Craig Roberts may have been a little optimistic
in suggesting that Louw had a chance of contributing to the season-ending
four-Test tour of the northern hemisphere after his disc surgery on Monday.
The “seven to eight weeks” Roberts tips him to be out of
action for would already intrude on the tour roster, as the Boks play Six
Nations champions Ireland in Dublin on November 8, and by the time Louw got the
medical all-clear for involvement he might well be off the boil in conditioning
terms for the remaining three obligations against England, Italy and Wales
Wouldn’t it be better to simply ensure the leading No 6 is
in tip-top shape for World Cup year in 2015 and pretty much write him off from
the European venture?
This is hardly the worst time anyway to be taking
bigger-picture RWC needs into account, and studiously examining depth in each
Primary fetcher is a key component in most top-tier Test
teams’ armoury, so if any injury mishap affected Louw at the UK-staged World
Cup itself, South Africa would want someone to step into his shoes as
seamlessly as possible.
That is why the next few weeks could be so important for
Coetzee to confirm he is that person, even though his own case for regular first-team
deployment is aided by his flank versatility – wearing the blindsider’s shirt
in the absence of his still recuperating Sharks colleague Willem Alberts, he
had been working very effectively in tandem with Louw recently.
The big strength of the Louw-Coetzee combo on the sides of
the scrum is that they are fiercely hard-grafting, interchangeable players,
being able to play to the ball and serve as strong carriers into the bargain; it
is not cast in stone that Alberts, once fit again himself, will greedily make
the No 7 jersey his own.
It has been widely speculated in the media this week that the
patient Oupa Mohoje will finally earn a Bok blindside start when coach Heyneke
Meyer names his side on Wednesday to face Australia at Newlands on Saturday
Pilfering is not Mohoje’s known strength: he is a more
classical, tall-timber figure in the slot who will be more at ease in carrying
and tackling duties and with his budding lineout skills.
So if Coetzee does, as expected, get the No 6 jersey and his
flank partner is the Cheetahs rookie rather than, say, veteran Schalk Burger –
rather more of a Louw-style loosie – he will be under pressure to turn
scavenging “specialist” once again as quickly as possible.
At least the Potchefstroom-born livewire, 23, is far from
unfamiliar with No 6 duty this season, considering how often – and generally
very well -- he performed the role for the Sharks in Super Rugby.
It is also how he began his (currently 20-cap) Test career
in 2012, Meyer’s maiden season in charge, when he started six games on the trot
in the berth – his initial loose forward allies were Alberts and Pierre Spies.
In truth, that was not an alliance made in heaven as far as
the turnover and slow-down function on the deck was concerned, and when Louw
burst onto the Bok scene Coetzee found himself limited more to bench status for
a fair old period.
So if he wears No 6 against the Wallabies, Coetzee will
really have gone full circle, and in his favour is that he is probably a
better, wiser man in the role now than he was two years ago.
His equivalent pilferer in the visiting ranks will almost
certainly be Michael Hooper, acknowledged as one of the best there is, so if he
holds his own – or perhaps then some? – at Newlands, Coetzee can safely nail
down the chore for the next few Bok games while Louw is out of the picture.
On the plus side, he would have in-form No 8 Duane Vermeulen
as a comforting ally in the turnover stakes, although that may be tempered by
the fact that Bismarck du Plessis – also a fantastic, muscular thief at the
breakdown – is currently, and unusually, struggling to earn first-choice status
at hooker ...
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