Bok loosies: Nobody glued in
Cape Town - The Springboks find themselves in a highly unusual position just over a week out from their encounter with Australia in Perth: all three loose forward positions could be said to be “up for grabs”.
And this in a department where the country, traditionally, has been so strongly served for many years, even if injuries are playing a major role in instability during the 2012 international campaign.
Give some credit to already embattled Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer ... he seems to have acted reasonably decisively to address shortcomings in the loose trio that were all too evident in the 16-16 draw with Castle Rugby Championship rookies Argentina in Mendoza last weekend, even if there is also a case for saying he dug the hole in the first place by assembling a combination overloaded in brawn at the expense of skill and stealth.
All three men who started in jerseys six to eight and were outsmarted and even out-bludgeoned by the Pumas - Marcell Coetzee, Jacques Potgieter and Willem Alberts - do remain in the broad squad mix for the next assignment.
But by adding the only recently fit-again Duane Vermeulen and British-based Francois Louw to his plans, Meyer has either consciously or subconsciously signalled that a shake-up will be both desired and necessary against the Wallabies.
The next challenge for the coach is not only picking the right trio, but deciding who exactly to offer each number, because most of his latest resources at loose forward offer pretty high levels of versatility - something that is both admirable but also potentially complicating and confusing.
The most obvious alteration, astute critics probably concur, will be the demotion from the starting XV of Potgieter.
A strong and wholehearted player, it is true, the Bulls basher has nevertheless been rather exposed at Test level for subtlety.
Although perhaps not the person best equipped to make this judgement, SA-based Wallabies wing legend David Campese suggested on rugby talk show Boots & All this week that Potgieter “plays more like a prop” in the tight-loose, implying that the Boks are obsessed with traditional, yet also too predictable, beat-‘em-into-submission strengths.
If he does get the chop, Alberts ought to shift back to the unglamorous but important blind-side flank role to which he seems greatly better suited than No 8, where his best footballing intentions are impeded by a lack of necessary pace out of the blocks.
That begs the question of who, in turn, will assume eighthman duties against Australia if Alberts does make the positional switch.
Vermeulen will be an attractive option here for Meyer, especially as he has apparently always wanted to gauge his credentials at Test level.
The drawback is that the big unit from Nelspruit has only made two curtailed comeback appearances in the Currie Cup for Western Province after his long-term absenteeism.
Yet Meyer may bank on getting, say, 50 suitably combative minutes out of Vermeulen in Perth, before accepting that his man may well run out of puff.
An alternative might be to introduce him to the Test fray off the bench in the second half, but then either of Coetzee or Louw, who can play at No 8 but are more accustomed generally to side-of-scrum slots, would have to be stationed there.
Speaking of those two, the selection plot only thickens, because who plays as the specialist open-sider in Perth is another mild poser.
Coetzee has been a constant there under Meyer’s Bok tenure, and mostly done a sound, sometimes dynamic job, although last Saturday was perhaps his least effective in the role - he, too, has prior experience of No 8 and blind-sider and can come into the reckoning for both.
Similarly Louw is just as comfortable at six and seven, and has also extended his own repertoire by doing some No 8 duty for Bath.
Fielding both men against Australia could bring benefits, given that it would offer the Boks two fetchers, in certain senses.
Lineout factors have to be brought into consideration as well, especially with such world-class practitioners in this department as Juan Smith and Pierre Spies not available, and here Vermeulen (by the way, he can also feasibly be considered at No 7!) could be of great benefit to the Boks.
Just another snag to contemplate is that both Vermeulen and Louw (the latter only in English pre-season) are desperately low on game-time - can you risk having them in the same trio in a Test at this stage?
By contrast, have people like Coetzee and Alberts, bearing in mind their much-travelled Super Rugby obligations with the Sharks right to the bitter end of that competition, almost had a touch too much rugby for the moment and might actually benefit from a spot of “impact” play for the Boks?
These are all things Meyer has to weigh up.
Who knows which of the array of combination options is tempting him most right now, but if he went for a starting brew of Coetzee at six, Alberts at No 7 and Vermeulen at No 8, with someone like Louw lurking on the bench, he should have his bases pretty covered ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing