Johannesburg - Springbok coach Allister Coetzee names his 33-man squad for the start of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship on Saturday night but before that he may have to live through some anxious moments.
According to the SuperSport website, there shouldn’t be many surprises in the squad after the Boks’ emphatic 3-0 series triumph over France in June, but there are a few headaches that Coetzee has to deal with. For instance, there is no clarity at this point as to when his chosen skipper Warren Whiteley will be back in action, and the Boks face Argentina in Port Elizabeth in their first Championship match just two weeks from now.
Whiteley was told he’d be out for six to eight weeks after the groin injury that kept him out of the last test against France was diagnosed. Six weeks would mean that he could be back in training next week, but if it is eight weeks he is out for, he will struggle to make the flight to Argentina for the return clash with the Pumas on 26 August.
Eben Etzebeth captained the side against France in the Emirates Airlines Park clash with France and did well, so it is likely he’d continue as captain, though there is a chance that Coetzee might consider giving the armband to Etzebeth’s franchise captain at the Stormers, Siya Kolisi. That, of course, is provided that Whiteley is not back in time to lead the side at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. It is anticipated that Whiteley will be named as captain and that a decision on his readiness for the Pumas clash will be made once the team are in camp in Port Elizabeth.
If Whiteley isn’t available for that game, No 8 is also a potential problem area, particularly as Duane Vermeulen, who hasn’t played for the Boks for a year, is going to be continuing his absence from the South African national team after it was confirmed last month that he would be undergoing surgery for a groin injury. Jean-Luc du Preez played No 8 as a stop-gap measure in the third test against France when Whiteley was ruled out, with Jaco Kriel coming in on the flank, but his brother Daniel is a better fit as a No 8.
The reason that Coetzee might be sweating on Saturday afternoon before the announcement though is because of the scarcity of resources in some other positions, particularly flyhalf. Elton Jantjies was outstanding against France and is a certainty for the No 10 jersey, but there isn’t much back-up.
Handre Pollard had further minor surgery on top of the ankle surgery he underwent earlier in the year and his return to the playing field is said to be imminent. However, with little rugby under his belt, Coetzee would be reluctant to select him straight into the squad. Frans Steyn was the flyhalf back-up to Jantjies against France.
With Patrick Lambie’s future uncertain due to his concussion issues, Coetzee lacks experienced back-up to Jantjies, and he might also still be a little concerned about the first choice’s temperament after his recent poor game against the Sharks in the Super Rugby quarterfinal.
Jantjies bounced back well last week in the semifinal against the Hurricanes and would have regained confidence, but as much as he will be holding thumbs that Jantjies gets through the final uninjured, Coetzee will also be hoping that the feared Crusaders line-speed on defence doesn’t cause another Jantjies blemished performance in the Super Rugby final.
The decider provides Jantjies with the perfect opportunity to prove that he can perform in the really high pressured games, but an off performance will dent his confidence, and that of the national coach, ahead of a tournament that includes home and away fixtures against the All Blacks.
Raymond Rhule played wing against France but there is a feeling that Ruan Combrinck will be a better fit against the southern hemisphere teams, so while there have been reports indicating that the Lions wing will be excluded from the squad announced on Saturday night, he won’t do himself any harm if he produces another good game to go with his effort against the Hurricanes.
The squad is to be announced at approximately 18:45 on Saturday evening.
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