Boks: Flo to edge Kriel as fetcher?

2016-08-17 12:29
Francois Louw (Gallo Images)

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 bench.

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 animals.

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.

Possible 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.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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