Boks in worst disarray of year

2016-11-09 12:01
Willem Alberts (Gallo)

Cape Town – Instability reigns to a very disconcerting extent as the Springboks gear up for arguably their most hyped Test match of the calendar year against England at Twickenham on Saturday.

Coach Allister Coetzee was never done any favours in scheduling terms, with the toughest of the three end-of-year internationals on paper coming at the front of the roster, rather than after a potentially useful “build-up” against Italy and Wales – and even those matches offer little instinctive guarantee of comfort from a South African perspective.

The wild and woolly Barbarians match last weekend did desperately little to clear the fog, given just how experimental the Bok XV fielded at Wembley for the 31-31 draw was, and also the fact that the unsatisfactory display offered few solutions for the structure of Coetzee’s “A-team”, in truth.

Instead, then, Coetzee has to page back to the last Test match, against New Zealand in Durban on October 8, for any prior frame of reference … and nobody needs reminding that it was a stinging 57-15 defeat.

All that event is likely to have done is strip away certain personnel in the mind of embattled Coetzee, though sadly leaving only voids in certain positions that hardly overflow with clear-cut, convincing alternatives.

Although injuries, almost inevitably at this advanced stage of the southern season, have taken a fairly savage toll – though ditto England, of course – the Boks sadly look in as much (if not more) disarray in both player priority and game-plan terms as they have throughout 2016 thus far.

Perhaps the only area that may stay largely – perhaps even fully? – unchanged after the Durban fiasco is his tight five, where all of Tendai Mtawarira, captain Adriaan Strauss, Vincent Koch, Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit might be retained (possibly a good idea, considering how many changes elsewhere there are likely to be to the starting line-up from Kings Park).

Of those tight forwards, scrum anchorman Koch is probably under the greatest threat for his spot from specialist scrummager Lourens Adriaanse at No 3, although the former is better renowned as a ball-carrier and general contributor outside of the set-piece – and the current Boks, struggling so often for good field position, need all the go-forward they can get.

The loose trio, to be blunt, is a bit of a nightmare with so many credible candidates ruled out and the No 6 “fetcher” spot a particular head-scratcher with no specialist, inexplicably, left in the party.

My vote would go to an emergency stationing in the role, given the circumstances, of Uzair Cassiem, the abrasive Cheetahs blind-sider who has a fierce work ethic – a good start – and is probably capable of making the adjustment to being a nuisance over the ball.

Yes, he would be a debutant on a truly pressure-cooker stage, but he may just be worth the risk. If they get cold feet on that score, then two Test-cap Nizaam Carr, who showed some good touches at No 8 against the BaaBaas and has at least operated at six before, would be my next cab off the rank.

Oupa Mohoje is the reasonably lengthy incumbent of the No 7 jersey … and, to be blunt, inexplicably so in this scribe’s book.

Having started every Test in the largely ill-fated Rugby Championship, and then been muted once more when he had the chance to really assert himself against the BaaBaas, the athletic Mohoje continues to be too fitful a presence, making good enough trackback-type tackles, but showing way too little mongrel and zeal as a front-foot factor.

This is impeding the Boks’ quest to boss real estate more than they seem to realise, and even considering the very real danger that his best days have long past, I believe the Boks could do much worse than ask that 32-year-old behemoth Willem Alberts to take the blind-side chore instead this weekend in conditions that ought to suit his style of play.

Warren Whiteley, the No 8, faces an acid examination on this tour of his ability to be effective at close quarters, but he has the potential to be a factor with his mobility nevertheless – as long as he has two renowned, robust flankers around him in the loose trio to act as suitable “balancers”.

Simply for the sake of promoting continuity, keeping the halfback alliance that played the Barbarians, Rudy Paige and Pat Lambie, seems the correct medicine although the latter is still worryingly short of his A-game – this would be an ideal occasion to set things right, wouldn’t it?

Francois Venter must be on the radar quite strongly for outside centre, but there are potential fruits to be enjoyed from assembling the all-Lions duo of Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Lionel Mapoe, who dovetailed so well in Super Rugby, in midfield.

If both are free of their reported pre-game niggles, veteran wings Bryan Habana and the satisfyingly big JP Pietersen should be reunited for an occasion that may not be pretty, and where experience could be a telling factor on Saturday – though I wouldn’t have a heart attack if Jamba Ulengo was suddenly propelled to a Test cap.

What then of fullback, such an area of indecisiveness for the Boks this year? My choice would be Lions utility factor Ruan Combrinck, despite his encouraging initial displays at right wing earlier this year before his injury.

He has a decent boot, good positional alertness, plus the ability to back up Lambie in the place-kicking department – especially from major distance -- if necessary.

It is going to be difficult, frankly, to expect any Bok combo that may run out at “Twickers” to gel swiftly, although one inadvertent blessing is that England last had a gallop as a team as far back as June when they clean-swept Australia away 3-0.

From the current Bok squad, and although there are some lingering injury concerns in the camp, this would be the team I would be tempted to start with for the England match:

15 Ruan Combrinck, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Uzair Cassiem/Nizaam Carr, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Adriaan Strauss (capt), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  willem alberts  |  rugby

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