Rugby Championship

Shunned Combrinck: Leyds to nip into gap?

2017-09-21 13:30
Dillyn Leyds (Gallo)

Cape Town – Particularly in Gauteng and environs, the riddle over Ruan Combrinck’s Springbok cold-shouldering seems as baffling as the spooky allure of the Bermuda Triangle.

The squad retention of Raymond Rhule, meanwhile, after his frankly lamentable showing against the All Blacks in the 0-57 Albany debacle, is as mysterious as the beast that supposedly lurks in the chilly waters of Loch Ness.

But if the multi-skilled Dillyn Leyds gets a crack at the problematic No 14 jersey in place of the labouring Ghanaian-born wing - which seems a pretty logical move based on options from the latest group coach Allister Coetzee has assembled - he will simultaneously have a chance to nail down for a while a comforting, “all-round footballer” berth in the back three.

And yes, that would potentially be to the detriment, at least in the short- to medium-term, of the Lions favourite Combrinck, currently plying his trade in Japan but fully available to the national cause as he remains committed to his Super Rugby franchise for the 2018 campaign.

Rhule entered the Bok picture this year already under a cloud over his defensive fortitude and technical abilities, especially having come out of the (now expelled) Cheetahs environment in Super Rugby – a team capable of good things going forward but about as watertight as a rusty bucket when it came to concessions at the other end of the park.

Although not constantly awful, Rhule has only really crept to “satisfactory” at best on occasions amidst a generous tally of seven consecutive Bok starts, and things only reached a nadir for him against rampant New Zealand, who duly handed the Boks their worst ever beating as he failed to get a handle on the powerhouse opposite him at QBE Stadium, Rieko Ioane.

That eight-tries-to-nil disgrace would be an automatic cue for many international coaches to pull the plug reasonably en masse on underperforming players, but coach Allister Coetzee instead dropped only scrumhalf Francois Hougaard altogether, while adding Louis Schreuder, S’bu Nkosi and Bath-based veteran Francois Louw to the broad party.

There is, in fairness, always a case for resisting panicked measures, and clearly this is the route Coetzee has overwhelmingly opted to take, even if it is at the considerable risk of only irking disgruntled Bok enthusiasts further after the violent reverse to the world champions which has clouded the earlier revival progress being made this year.

A personal view is that, despite the continued omission of Combrinck looking notably challenging to justify, Coetzee acting decisively by making changes to both wing positions against Australia in Bloemfontein next weekend would go at least so way to restoring approval from cynics of his selections.

Although namesake Andries Coetzee hasn’t exactly set the world alight since his own blooding at fullback, he is arguably the member of the fragile back three most worthy of a continued nod – and at Free State Stadium he may suddenly become the alliance’s notably most “senior” figure.

Certainly few could brand the coach brain-dead (based on assessments of 2017 Test form, or rather lack of it) if he decided to cull both Rhule – the likeliest – and Courtnall Skosan from their starting berths.

He may be seduced by the much-needed, greater physical powers offered by the chunky, purposeful Sharks left wing Nkosi, 21; we will find this out late next week.

But in many ways Leyds coming into the team – most probably in Rhule’s place – on the other wing might represent an even more pronounced solution to making the whole trio look that key bit more adhesive and balanced-looking.

That is because Leyds, importantly as comfortable at No 15 as he is in the channels nearer the touchline, at least offers the prospect of providing the kind of alertness and positional awareness in own-half situations that has just seemed too lacking about the incumbent unit.

Fullback Coetzee, for example, might both look and feel more confident and proactive if at least one of his nearby allies on the wing is a known “extra fifteen” in many senses; that would undoubtedly have been the case had Combrinck, already sporting seven often striking Test appearances himself, been closer to favour.

But the 25-year-old Leyds also ticks that box, even as his cerebral abilities and moments of pronounced, spontaneous trickery count as traditionally stronger qualities than his physical ones.

When fit, the All Blacks are blessed with an extra fullback through Ben Smith whenever they deploy him on the wing (where he has started 23 of his 64 Tests), and Australia have profited more recently from a flexible back-three character like young Reece Hodge – he has a strong boot - operating in a wide berth.

 At 88kg, Leyds isn’t exactly a knock-back tackler or bruising carrier, but he does have X-factor, and that is something more than a few past Boks have lamented is too low on availability in the present SA backline.

After three usually fleeting substitute appearances in the France series in June, the Stormers/WP sorcerer warrants a crack in the starting line-up.

It’s futile to cry too much over the Combrinck “spilt milk” situation, at least as regards plans for the most immediate task now against the Wallabies.

But a back three comprising Messrs Coetzee, Nkosi (or even a Skosan last-chance saloon, at a stretch) and Leyds?

I could live with that.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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