Cape Town – Springbok coach Allister Coetzee is giving his current group of players every chance to feel part of the furniture.
Expect him, nevertheless, to feel justified in substantially redesigning the room if they fall at the Salta hurdle against Argentina on Saturday (21:40 SA time).
A long-time respecter of continuity, it is no outrageous surprise that he revealed just one change on Wednesday – an enforced one, with Vincent Koch replacing injured Julian Redelinghuys at tighthead prop – for the Castle Rugby Championship clash.
There will be cries of disapproval, doubtless, from those who would have favoured Lions tearaway Jaco Kriel above experienced Francois Louw at No 6, or a change to the currently stuttering midfield area where the Boks look as fluent as a stammering schoolkid reading Shakespeare to a teacher in a vile mood.
Instead Coetzee has underlined that patience is one of his hallmarks, even as he awaits a first really inspired collective Bok showing in his fifth game at the helm – it has not yet been in evidence from the three-Test Ireland series or last Saturday’s close-shave triumph over the Pumas at Mbombela Stadium.
Under such circumstances, he will feel well less guilty about making mass alterations for the next hurdle in the Championship – the two-game Australasian leg against the Wallabies and All Blacks respectively -- if his charges don’t produce an adhesive, slick and almost non-negotiably victorious effort in Argentina.
He has again given a reasonably settled bunch a chance to close out a “series” against the Pumas, in a sense, much like happened when the Irish visited our shores in June.
But he is almost sure to find it as unpalatable as the vast majority of Bok supporters will if the national side crash in Salta – South Africa have never yet succumbed away to the Pumas – and the Championship title already looks a dangerously elusive goal as a result.
Several players have at least one foot on quicksand and will know it, with Bath-based Louw particularly overdue to reproduce his sprightly open-side form of years past; this season he has laboured to impose himself.
His continued saving grace may well be that the next cab off the No 6 rank, Kriel, seems so tailor-made for impact purposes in the second half as he is such a pacey, potentially game-breaking factor.
Coetzee will also seek reassurance that fullback Johan Goosen, a versatile footballer – maybe sometimes one can almost run the risk of being too utility-usable? – is indeed suited to a long-term role in the important last line of defence after decidedly mixed signals in Nelspruit.
The Boks require much more accuracy and rhythm from both centre spots whilst Elton Jantjies in the No 10 channel will give himself hugely more security as a national player if his seventh cap sees him produce the kind of assertive, bossing game that marked Pat Lambie’s role in the berth in last year’s fairly impressive 26-12 Buenos Aires win.
Should the Boks come a cropper, expect the spotlight to suddenly fall with extreme weight also on the captain and present first-choice hooker, Adriaan Strauss.
Thus far, he has demonstrated an ability as leader to keep a suitably calm demeanour when the Boks have been under the whip, and it seems relatively clear that the men under his command are willingly enough “going to war” for him.
But he has remained little better than suitably functional in his specific No 2 role, not yet this season showing the sort of bustling qualities outside of set-piece requirements that have marked many of his prior 58 appearances in green and gold.
Noticeable aid from Strauss to Louw in breakdown pilfering, for one thing, would be seriously useful in Salta …
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