Cape Town – A slight tweak versus a
reprieve en masse … that is probably the
tormenting debate in Springbok coach Allister Coetzee’s mind a day before he
names his team for the critical second Test against Ireland at Emirates Airline
Park on Saturday.
He has done more than just hint in the
lead-up – he’s been much more clear-cut than that in media soundbites -- that
wholesale changes would amount to a panic signal, and that’s probably the least
desirable characteristic a new mentor wishes to display at this point of his
There will, of course, be one enforced
change as ruled-out Pat Lambie makes way for the expected presence of Elton
Jantjies in the No 10 shirt.
But otherwise the match-day 23 he had named
for the fateful Newlands clash earned widespread public and pundit support; seeking
an urgent, angry response from virtually all of those troops to events in the
first encounter, when they both outwitted and outmuscled, hardly seems a stupid
idea … am I the only one expecting a particularly concerted backlash?
That said, minor ways to spice up the mix for
the Highveld clash will have gripped Coetzee’s attention at least to a degree.
A call-up for Johannesburg home-town hero
Ruan Combrinck at right wing? Julian Redelinghuys, another Lions flag-bearer,
for the penalty-leaking Frans Malherbe at tighthead?
I’d say those are possible more than they
But given the particularly neck-and-neck
duel at No 5 between incumbent Lood de Jager and hungry reserve Pieter-Steph du
Toit for the role of Eben Etzebeth’s lock partner, this may be the lone area
where Coetzee makes a change by choice rather than necessity.
After all, some critical mutterings have
surrounded the issue of reputation against Super Rugby 2016 form … and the
latter is undoubtedly something that firmly favours Du Toit.
De Jager candidly admitted himself ahead of
the Irish series that he hadn’t been producing his best rugby in a Cheetahs
jersey, whereas Du Toit has consistently been one of the main pack dynamos in
his maiden campaign for the moderate but still title-aspirant Stormers.
He must be simply itching for a first start
in his favoured second row for the Boks; the blond bomber has nine caps but
with a lone start slightly out of position at blindside flank in perhaps the
worst possible fixture from a memory point of view – that loss to minnows Japan
at RWC 2015 in Brighton.
Du Toit made the most of his 24 minutes off
the “splinters” at Newlands, adding some much-needed intensity to a
surprisingly lethargic Bok eight, and that’s even though you could argue he got
lucky in some respects with his intercept try in the 69th minute
which gave the favourites’ cause a fresh glimmer of light for a while.
But if the counter-argument is that you
make your own luck, Du Toit was very comfortably on hand to grasp the
opportunistic moment and streak over at the posts; he has an under-rated turn
of pace to go with his many other attributes.
De Jager, it has to be said, had quite
possibly his least impactful game for South Africa since he properly burst onto
the scene with his maiden start (albeit third cap) against Scotland in Port
Elizabeth in 2014, when he scored two tries – one a majestic gallop from almost
40m out – en route to a fine 55-6 victory.
Subsequently, he has quite commonly been
either the top man or at least very close to that mantle in Sport24’s
traditional player ratings out of 10 after Bok Test matches.
He was also immense -- let’s not lose sight
of that -- for much of RWC 2015, where some neutral scribes had him in or only
just outside their suggested World XVs after the tournament.
A lingering personal memory of De Jager in
England was of him near-constantly making key midfield yardage with determined
drives for the Springboks, which made it all the more surprising that he
spilled at least two balls in contact against Ireland last Saturday.
Generally, however, he was no worse than
the vast majority of Boks on a true video-nasty day for them all round, and if
he has recovered in time for selection availability after reportedly missing
some training early this week with a calf niggle, it would not be too much of a
surprise if De Jager survives a “cull”.
But Du Toit is bubbling under almost
irresistibly, and won’t De Jager know it!
What you may well see in the Big Smoke is
less patience from the coach if certain players are under-performing once more,
and thus the prospect of earlier instructions than in Cape Town for bench-men
to ditch their tracksuits and prepare themselves for action …
*The Bok match-day squad is to be revealed
at around 12:30 on Thursday.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing