Cape Town – He may have quietly made up his
mind already, but it seems Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has a pleasant
dilemma in narrowing down his wing options for the first Test against Ireland
at Newlands on June 11.
Coetzee named three specialists for the
berths in his 31-strong maiden squad on Saturday, and the only certainty, you
would think, is a starting place for experienced JP Pietersen.
The big Sharks unit’s street wisdom will be
especially valuable against the Irish considering that much-decorated regular
wing-mate for several years, Bryan Habana, is not available for this series.
Pietersen also offers good height at 1.91m
and brawn (106kg) which will be necessary to balance an otherwise unremarkable
back three from a physical point of view if you assume Willie le Roux will be
Pietersen is capable of playing on either
side, even if right wing is his most familiar terrain, which probably means
that Lwazi Mvovo (left) and newcomer Ruan Combrinck (more accustomed to the
right) are tussling for one spot in the XV for Newlands.
In Mvovo’s favour is greater prior exposure
to Test rugby, considering that he has slowly compiled 15 caps (11 starts) over
the course of several years since debut in late 2010.
The Umtata-born express is a fine finisher
and alert counter-attacker if a break-out is suddenly on from deep, and perhaps
the only reason that he seldom gets a meaningful run of appearances is the
frequent Habana-Pietersen stumbling block to his involvement in the wide spots.
If there are reservations, they probably
revolve around his defence, where his tackle technique is not the best and he
is not in Habana’s league – though few are -- for speedily covering the other
side of the park when necessary in crisis situations under pressure.
Of course a strong Johannesburg lobby will
be greatly in favour of Coetzee preferring Combrinck, one of the nine uncapped
Boks in the extended squad and undoubtedly a “form” player in Super Rugby
The 26-year-old has made more metres for
the Lions (903) in the competition, if statistics are to be believed, than all
other customers but Israel Folau (Waratahs) and Damian McKenzie of the Chiefs.
He is also a top-tenner in the categories for
clean breaks and defenders beaten.
Combrinck also sports comforting
first-class experience as a fullback, which is an additional attribute for any
back-three man in a Test line-up.
That said, Mvovo is also no complete
stranger to the last line of defence; Jake White stationed him there a few
times during his tenure at Kings Park in 2014 and the switch did pay a few
Purely on 2016 credentials, Combrinck would
be my preference by a whisker for the first Test against Ireland, with
Pietersen thus switching to No 11 duty.
But it would be just as pleasing to see Mvovo
crack on the gas repeatedly in a fluid Bok performance at Newlands and potentially
do enough to warrant a rare run of appearances for South Africa.
Your call, Allister …
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing