Port Elizabeth - The misfortune that has befallen regular Springbok tighthead Frans Malherbe and the timing of Ruan Dreyer’s paternity leave has offered Coenie Oosthuizen a gilt edged opportunity to nail down a position in the team that has so far only ever been his on a temporary basis.
The former Free Stater has worked hard on his conditioning and it has led to him showing up even more in general play than usual, with his little incursion into the flyhalf channel that led to a try for fellow frontranker Thomas du Toit against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires being a particularly stand-out memory from an impressive Super Rugby season for the Sharks.
With Malcolm Marx now over his injury niggle and Beast Mtawarira recovered from the neck complaint that kept him sidelined from the Sharks’ last three matches in Super Rugby, Oosthuizen should be the only newcomer to the front-row for the clash with the Pumas, who pride themselves on the strength of their scrum.
Oosthuizen is no stranger of course to the Bok front-row, and after a couple of years in the international wilderness he made three appearances in the series against France. They were all however off the replacement’s bench, which until now appeared to have been Oosthuizen’s designated role.
His ability to get around the field and to show up as a carrier does make him the ideal impact substitute, and it was why Dreyer leapfrogged him into the starting front-row when Malherbe was rested in the final test against France.
The Boks struggled in the scrums at times in that match and the disruption won’t have been welcomed by the scrumming coach. Oosthuizen does have his detractors when it comes to his primary role and it has not been forgotten that he started his rugby life as a loosehead. However, he has enjoyed a solid 2017.
The question mark over the make-up of the Bok backrow appeared to be cleared up at Bok training sessions this week, with Uzair Cassiem looking a likely starter at No 8 in place of the injured skipper Warren Whiteley. Jean-Luc du Preez played off the back of the scrum last time out at Ellis Park but the change was a late one and the Bok coaches never had much option as there were no other recognised No 8s in the squad.
Cassiem has played more of his rugby for the Cheetahs on the flank but he does fit the mould of a No 8. His only previous appearance for the Boks against the Welsh in Cardiff in 2017 was at flank and he was one of the few players to impress in a team that was well beaten in the final match of a miserable international season for South African rugby.
Cassiem was one of several players selected for the November tour group on the basis of good performances for the Free State Cheetahs’ Currie Cup winning effort but did not feature in the opening non-international tour match against a Barbarians team at Wembley and then flew home before being recalled to the Europe when injury struck the Boks.
Ross Cronje looks likely to be over his shoulder injury so the backline should be unchanged from the one that played against France.
Probable Bok team: Andries Coetzee, Raymond Rhule, Jesse Kriel, Jan Serfontein, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje, Uzair Cassiem, Jaco Kriel/Jean-Luc du Preez, Siya Kolisi, Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Coenie Oosthuizen, Malcolm Marx, Tendai Mtawarira.
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