Rugby Championship

Boks: What to make of Alberts call-up?

2016-09-12 11:58
Willem Alberts (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Bloodied and bruised, on and off the field, the Springboks head into Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash against the mighty All Blacks all but knocked out cold.

Critics have been coming hard, some with more tact than others, and even coach Allister Coetzee might be shocked at how tough his introduction to Test rugby has proven to be.

The 23-17 loss to Australia on Saturday was hard to watch for a number of reasons.

The Boks look like they are in the middle of a massive identity crisis - stuck between the truck-and-trailer approach of old and a new brand of 'Lions rugby' that everybody seems to want.

You don't have to look too far to see that crisis playing out on the field.

All too often the Boks looked stuck on Saturday ... unsure of their next move and unable to build any periods of sustained pressure with ball in hand. 

They look like they don't want to kick as much, but so poor are they in moving forward that they should probably kick more, but that would go against the new philosophy, wouldn't it? Wait ... what IS that new philosophy, exactly? 

It all gets a bit confusing ...

Elton Jantjies - a natural ball-player - is not allowed to play the type of all-out, almost care-free attacking rugby that is encouraged at the Lions. He perhaps illustrates the identity crisis better than anyone.

The Boks simply never looked like scoring on Saturday, even though they surged to a 14-3 lead in the opening 20 minutes.

Coetzee spoke afterwards about the 'positives' - set piece, the bench, the hard and direct running - but in truth there was very little to suggest that this Bok team is on the verge of turning things around.

The match took its toll as Lood de Jager, Faf de Klerk and Johan Goosen were all sent for scans afterwards.

The news was not good for De Jager, who has been ruled out of the All Blacks clash with a knee injury.

Which brings us to Willem Alberts.

When Coetzee first took charge of this Bok team, there was a clear indication that he would be backing local players over those based abroad.

It was seen as a positive move as SA Rugby continues in its struggle to keep South Africa's best players in the country.

Leaving the country, all of a sudden, came with the risk of losing a shot at Bok colours and those who were left playing Super Rugby were given a welcomed boost.

The likes of the Du Plessis brothers - Jannie and Bismarck - and Ruan Pienaar have therefore found themselves sidelined in the new Bok era.

And, until Sunday, so too was Alberts.

There have been some who have suggested that the Alberts call-up sends the wrong message in Coetzee’s endeavour to back local players over those based overseas and that there were more deserving replacements that could have come from inside SA.

I disagree.

I don’t think that there are any players based in this country who can argue that they deserve a Bok call-up more than Alberts right now. 

It is a time of crisis, and the Boks could benefit from another wise old head. 

I would, however, argue that the Alberts call-up smacks of desperation on Coetzee’s part.

And, furthermore, it deepens the current Springbok identity crisis.

The 32-year-old is a bruiser – his physicality the major reason he was so valued in the 'crash and bash' Heyneke Meyer era.

It is what he always has and always will bring to the table, so what does his inclusion say about the way that Coetzee wants to play his rugby?

To me, it seems that in calling up Alberts, Coetzee is taking a step backwards towards something that resembles the Springboks of old.

The prospect of conceding a number of points is looming large for the Boks on Saturday.

But if they go into the match with the likes of Alberts and Eben Etzebeth, they will at the very least have a couple of big ball carriers to get over the gain line.

Throw Bismarck into that mix, and all of a sudden we have a Bok pack that sparks a little more confidence in terms of taking the game to the best in the world.

Whether or not Coetzee starts with Alberts remains to be seen. He is obviously a No 7 by trade but can play lock too.

Pieter-Steph du Toit might seem a more attractive option in the second row.

Either way, Alberts will be included somehow, and I would think that Coetzee would look to get him into the starting XV.

What message the Alberts call-up sends in terms of where Bok rugby is going hardly seems important at this time.

What is important is that the Boks are being tipped to concede 50 on Saturday, and that simply cannot happen as Coetzee looks to steady the ship.

And if Alberts can help restore some stability to the Bok jersey, then it will be hard to find fault with his inclusion. 

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