Rugby Championship

NZ: Boks must gamble with Wilco

2017-10-01 15:46
Wilco Louw (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - The Springboks, who desperately need more consistent set-pieces if they are to sport half a chance of upsetting the All Blacks at Newlands on Saturday, have to revisit the critical tighthead prop spot in the scrum.

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Perhaps their most worrisome failing in the 27-27 Rugby Championship draw with Australia in Bloemfontein on Saturday was not managing to boss that particular phase despite the potential to do so against a moderate rival eight.

For a third successive occasion - and Sport24 did sound a note of alarm in the lead-up - Ruan Dreyer incurred the technical wrath of the referee, to a costly degree, at scrum time.

He is too often guilty of “over-extending”, whilst a general propensity also for sinking to a knee hardly helps at times.

The Lions man is a decent talent at No 3 and - with age still on his side at a just-turned 27 - his time may come again to flourish at Test level, but his technique so clearly requires a tweak from an appropriate guru or two.

Until then, Bok coach Allister Coetzee really must now seek an urgent alternative.

Trevor Nyakane is the designated tighthead reserve as things stand, and did some tidy things in general exchanges in the 21 minutes he got in the see-saw battle against the Wallabies.

But he is also not a specialist on that side of the scrum - that was too apparent, remember, in the 0-57 walloping from New Zealand in Albany where he entered the fray for 25 minutes - and simply doesn’t make enough starts anyway to be up to the task of beginning in the anchoring role and maintaining energy for a long haul in combat against the world’s best side.

Solution? Keep Nyakane as the impact player, and summon back with some haste for a debut Wilco Louw, the young behemoth (133kg) from Western Province who got a taste of broader squad duty when called up as cover after Coenie Oosthuizen’s broken-arm mishap in Perth recently.

The 23-year-old with a low centre of gravity from Ceres might even prove a revelation, especially if tasked with scrumming down next to a really powerful hooker in Malcolm Marx and with in-form stalwart Tendai Mtawarira nearby also in the loose-head role.

Louw was due to get some game-time off the bench for WP in their Currie Cup match against the Blue Bulls in Pretoria later on Sunday (14:30 kick-off) and that could be useful after “carrying tackle bags” with the Boks for a couple of weeks.

That gallop should also be used to prime him for going into battle with the All Blacks, already confirmed as runaway winners of the Championship with a five out of five record with one to play … what is there to lose by the Boks in taking the plunge with the rookie?

Elsewhere, the Springboks look highly likely to have to make at least one injury-enforced change after eighth-man Uzair Cassiem suffered a game-ending injury near or on his ribs in Bloemfontein.

Maybe they need look no further than big Jean-Luc du Preez, who replaced him in the 19th minute and put himself about commendably even if - like Cassiem - he is not the most natural of No 8s.

Du Preez did fare promisingly there after a late summoning to the slot for the third and final Test against France in June, when Warren Whiteley pulled out (the regular captain is expected to be available again for the end-of-year tour).

The Boks produced a decidedly mixed bag against the Wallabies, showing some lovely touches and some rank bad, which kind of sums up their lingering fragility.

One thing’s for sure: they will be firm underdogs at Newlands.

Their backline still collectively struggles for true “punch” and class, and somewhere down the line a pronounced shaking of the bag may even be necessary; it may not occur quite yet as Coetzee gingerly closes out his second Championship in charge.

One point of satisfaction is that the Boks looked more adhesive in the wing berths, where first-time starter Dillyn Leyds was plucky and energetic at No 14, and Courtnall Skosan hearteningly lifted his game a notch.

There are still question marks around the flat-lining, in performance terms, Andries Coetzee at fullback.

While I would not bet too spiritedly on it happening this weekend, alternative options include Warrick Gelant, Curwin Bosch and possibly even a switch back to the last line of defence for midfielder Jesse Kriel.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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