Cape Town – The current “people’s favourite”
in South Africa, Jaco Kriel, against well-established but distant-based
incumbent Francois Louw.
That is what Springbok coach Allister
Coetzee has had to mull over – and he has probably already made his decision – in
terms of the important open-side flank berth for the Castle Rugby Championship
opener against Argentina at Mbombela Stadium on Saturday.
Coetzee will reveal his team hand on
Thursday, and if I were a betting man I would be placing my money on the 46-cap
Louw to stave off the compelling challenge of Kriel, the tearaway from Super
Rugby 2016 runners-up the Lions.
If that is the way the dice falls, it would
inevitably not go down hugely well in Johannesburg, where the pacey,
26-year-old Kriel delivered many blockbuster performances for his franchise in
recent weeks and months.
But there would also be some method to the
perceived “madness” if Bath stalwart Louw, 31, remains in the XV and Kriel has
the opportunity to earn just a second cap – he made his debut in the second
half of the decisive Test against Ireland in Port Elizabeth in June – off the
For one thing Kriel, whether he likes the
mantle or not, just seems a more attractive impact player than the more
grafting, close quarters-suited Louw does; they are very different athletic
I was among those who suggested last week
that both men could successfully be accommodated in the same loose trio although
Coetzee then placed on record that he regarded both Kriel and Louw as No 6
candidates; he is clearly not quite as seduced by the possibilities the latter
offers as a blind-sider of considerable prior experience there.
So unless there has been some degree of
hoodwinking involved, only one will start in Nelspruit.
Granted, Louw was not at his best against
Ireland, though when that series was contested he had just come off the
gruelling northern hemisphere season on its often heavy surfaces and should be
a more rejuvenated customer physically at this point.
But another factor you have to believe
falls in Louw’s favour was the withdrawal through injury a few days ago of
abrasive, world-renowned No 8 Duane Vermeulen.
With Vermeulen’s exit from the plans also
came the stripping of his immense street-wisdom and 37 Test appearances
stretching back some five years.
Warren Whiteley is the logical alternative
fit as eighth-man – at least giving the Lions one guaranteed flag-carrier
amongst the trio – leaving only the No 7 jersey still to be taken care of.
The frankly regrettable release from the
squad on Tuesday of the Stormers-based, X-factor youngster Sikhumbuzo Notshe
means that Oupa Mohoje, who has little genuine form to boast from an
injury-curtailed season so far, appears the likeliest candidate for that task.
There is also the outside chance of
suitably rangy lock Pieter-Steph du Toit being shifted to No 7, but he has been
so solid at No 5 that you are tempted to ask the time-honoured question: “why
fix something that isn’t broken?”
Transformation issues are never too far
away, and Coetzee might be flirting with political dissent and getting his broader,
required ratios wrong if he leaves no space among the loose forwards for a
player of colour.
The big snag, as I see it, in fielding a Kriel-Mohoje-Whiteley
loosie unit would be the unusually raw look it would provide to a department
normally renowned for the Boks fielding hugely proven, illustrious customers on
the highest stage – that combo would sport a flimsy combined tally of 15 caps.
So my tip, while not said with special
confidence, is the widely-travelled Louw instead joining Mohoje and Whiteley in
the start-out team and Kriel shedding his tracksuit at some point in the second
period when the game has potentially become more fluid.
Most of the Bok XV seems reasonably obvious
to predict (unless there is an unexpectedly violent bag-shake by the coach),
especially with strong smoke signals from the Lowveld that Johan Goosen, albeit
hugely more accustomed to flyhalf, will be tasked with succeeding Willie le
Roux at fullback.
Juan de Jongh could make a surprise
comeback in either of the No 12 or 13 midfield spots, but recent Sevens
exertions at the Olympics may mean he is not quite deemed mentally ready yet
for a speedy challenge for a XVs start at Test level.
Springbok starting XV: 15 Johan Goosen, 14 Ruan
Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton
Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Francois Louw, 5
Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Adriaan Strauss
(capt), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing