Cape Town – We are roughly 50 percent closer to knowing the
type of players Allister Coetzee will pin his premier faith in for the earliest
phase of his Springbok coaching adventure.
The really interesting part lies a few days ahead when he
has to narrow down his 31 squad names to an all-important, preferred starting
XV for the first of three Tests against Ireland at Newlands on June 11.
As reported on Saturday when he named his fuller party,
Coetzee has made quite sweeping changes to the RWC 2015 squad choice of his
predecessor Heyneke Meyer late last year, with as many as 14 players falling by
the wayside – albeit for various reasons and not all of them necessarily
precluded from future involvement.
There is a strong “rookie” theme to the new coach’s squad,
which only makes it likelier that many of the more seasoned, gnarly names who
have survived the cull will feature in the first clash with the Irish, at the
Coetzee will be well aware of the danger of going into
battle with too fresh-faced and radically-altered a XV against an Irish outfit
who were Six Nations champions for two years running before the 2016
For example, in a notably lean quota of overseas-based
players, you would not imagine Coetzee would have gone to the trouble of
summoning loose forwards Duane Vermeulen (Toulon) and Francois Louw (Bath) to
the cause if he didn’t wish them to be pretty central to his plans.
He knows both steely, highly proven campaigners well from
his Stormers years and it may be safe to assume both will start – assuming they
arrive, fit and willing – at Newlands.
I have suggested previously that, although he will probably
still be favourite for the open-side flank berth, Louw could be an option for
No 7 instead if Coetzee goes for the in-form, tearaway Lions flank Jaco Kriel
at six, with Vermeulen the No 8.
But after his welcome, thunderous performance for the
Stormers in the ill-tempered derby victory over the Cheetahs on Saturday, Siya
Kolisi has far more justifiable grounds than previously to wear No 7, so
Louw-Kolisi-Vermeulen seems the smart-money loose trio … perhaps with the
dynamic Kriel an attractive impact factor off the bench?
There are certain other positions where experience is
probably going to be preferred, including hooker where Bulls captain Adriaan
Strauss ought to be a shoe-in, leaving the Stormers pair of Scarra Ntubeni and
Bongi Mbonambi slugging it out for the substitute’s slot.
Coetzee bringing Steven Kitshoff, the outstanding young
loosehead prop, back from France suggests the Boks shrewdly want to cap him as
quickly as possible to avoid the risk of any qualification further down the
line for the European country, a la fellow front-ranker Pieter de Villiers (68
caps, 1999-2007) of a few years back.
What price Kitshoff making a maiden green-and-gold appearance
off the bench at Newlands, replacing No 1 stalwart Tendai Mtawarira for fresh
legs at some point in the second half?
There should be some fairly obvious debut starters, like the
massively deserving Lionel Mapoe at outside centre; he only cranked up his
hungry quest for the No 13 shirt in the Lions’ high-tempo destruction of the
Bulls at Loftus on Saturday, and scrumhalf Faf de Klerk is also going to be
hard to ignore for a maiden appearance after a quite sensational game in
It also seems there is a chance of De Klerk being paired
with franchise colleague Elton Jantjies, given that Coetzee has reported the
flyhalf is recuperating fast from his finger-break and potentially up for
That might mean Pat Lambie being curbed to covering of the
pivot spot – and perhaps inside centre and fullback too -- on the Newlands
bench, although he is likely to start running in the first-team “ten” channel
during the earliest training lead-up to the Test.
Possible Bok starting
line-up for first Test: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel
Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Elton Jantjies (or Pat Lambie)
9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Francois Louw, 5
Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1
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