Springboks

Mvovo, Combrinck vie for Bok spot

2016-05-30 13:20
Lwazi Mvovo (Gallo Images)

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 fullback.

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 terms.

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 dividends.

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 …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  lwazi mvovo  |  ruan combrinck  |  rugby
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