Pretoria - Springbok coach Allister Coetzee may have a plethora of problems already following the national team’s massive loss to the All Blacks this past weekend in Durban, but his task ahead of the end of year tour has become exceptionally more difficult.
Coetzee faces some of the toughest choices of his career when he selects the team to tour in November for four games – starting off with the match against the British Barbarians at Twickenham on November 5.
And as if he has not had enough problems, Coetzee will have to approach that game without almost half of his squad that did battle in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship and field an extremely young and inexperienced team against the composite free-playing side.
The match falls outside World Rugby’s international calendar which means the Boks are not allowed to use any of their overseas-based players for the match, making the Boks’ task of winning the opener even more difficult.
While it normally wouldn’t have been too big a headache, a number of Golden Lions players now will join up with Japanese clubs for their season, ruling them out of the opening match alongside their European counterparts.
This means that of the 31 man squad for the Rugby Champs – 14 will be unavailable because of club commitments, while Bok lock Lood de Jager will be banned for his shoulder charge into a ruck and will miss the game.
Coetzee will have to field a young squad for that game, then bring back a number of seasoned campaigners for the second game of the tour – against Eddie Jones’ England.
While that in itself will be disruptive and hardly the type of build-up that Coetzee would have liked, it does give a number of fringe players a run for the Boks and could well see one or two of them force their way into the squad.
But it may not be in the positions that most fans have been calling for, as local based players already in the squad are likely to keep their places as a number of changes are necessary with the overseas contingent out.
To put it into perspective, those who will be ruled out of selection for the Barbarians game are Willem Alberts, Johan Goosen, Bryan Habana, Steven Kitshoff, Morne Steyn (all France), Willie le Roux, Francois Hougaard, Francois Louw, Vincent Koch (all England) and Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Warren Whiteley, Lionel Mapoe and Elton Jantjies (all Japan).
Add De Jager’s name to that list and the Boks have some issues to sort out in terms of depth.
The match will not count as a full-blown test, and caps won’t be awarded for the match, but given the loss to New Zealand it will be a key time for the Boks to set the tone ahead of tough games against England, Italy and Wales and to try and restore some confidence in a squad which is already in dire need of some good news after the weekend.
However, given the current squad, it may not be that some players – like the Lions midfielder Rohan Janse van Rensburg, who has been invited to play for the Barbarians – will get automatically called up with Juan de Jongh, Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel all available for selection.
Other injured players like Siya Kolisi, Ruan Combrinck and Sikhumbuzo Notshe may well find themselves recalled if they recover in time for the tour.
Mostert also is in an interesting position and while he has committed to Japan, he previously signed with Lyon in France and the club have threatened action if he does not honour his contract there.
On the remainder of the squad, the biggest concern will be to find a loose trio that can balance well and give the Boks the strike power they will need desperately in tough conditions.
With Flo, Whiteley and Kriel all out, a new No 8 will be needed, as will a new fetcher with the Boks looking exceptionally thin in the loose forward department without their overseas contingent.
Another area of concern – flyhalf – with Pat Lambie being the only viable candidate for the position with Jantjies, Steyn and Goosen all ruled out with club commitments
Either way the Boks need a massive boost of confidence from the game before taking on England, knowing the performance could put down a big marker for the tour.
And Coetzee will need to bank on untried and raw talent to do so with very little time to prepare.
Overseas based players unavailable for Barbarians game
1. Willem Alberts
2. Johan Goosen
3. Bryan Habana
4. Francois Hougaard
5. Elton Jantjies
6. Steven Kitshof
7. Vincent Koch
8. Jaco Kriel
9. Willie le Roux
10. Francois Louw
11. Lionel Mapoe
12. Morne Steyn
13. Warren Whiteley
14. Franco Mostert
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