Springboks

THIS Bok team should start Champs

2017-06-26 14:02
Allister Coetzee (Gallo)

Cape Town - It virtually goes without saying, happily, that the revitalised Springboks appear to have largely found their correct squad brew for what challenges remain in the 2017 campaign.

Expect a pronounced nucleus of the current troops, who subdued France so clinically at times en route to a 3-0 series triumph, to feature again when the annual Rugby Championship next enters the radar for South Africa in mid-August.

The new-found squad unity and harmony is there for all to see, so fiddling too much with the personnel would clearly make little sense.

Nevertheless, head coach Allister Coetzee and his lieutenants will also be mindful of the altogether more acid examination of his charges coming from the ongoing might of the All Blacks, in particular, and presumably open to the odd tweak of resources to stiffen the Bok mix further.

For one thing, there should be certain players returning from injuries or alternative distractions (like wunderkind Curwin Bosch) of late to be available for consideration: into the former category may fall players like Handre Pollard, Oupa Mohoje, Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am if all have rehabilitated successfully in time for deployment during the tournament stretching over seven weeks.

It is also not clear at this stage whether established, heavyweight loose forward Duane Vermeulen is going to remain ruled out for a lengthy period or not with his shoulder problem.

On that score, there is also an anxious wait to establish the severity of the groin injury that ruled popular new skipper Warren Whiteley out of the final Test at his home ground, Emirates Airline Park, on Saturday.

The two-match series between South Africa ‘A’ and the French Barbarians threw out a few names who might be ripe for a higher-tier call-up soon, including the exciting Bulls fullback Warrick Gelant - his elusiveness and welcome turn of speed in the second game suggests he could be considered both at No 15 and wing - and Ox Nche, Harold Vorster and Jano Vermaak among others.

Still, such players might have to largely wait in line until incumbents in the Bok frame lose form to a noticeable extent, so unexpectedly convincing and passion-laden was the French series sweep.

Several starting berths now look encouragingly sewn up for the time being, although weaker areas do remain, suggesting selection for Championship game one against Argentina isn’t quite cut and dried.

I would argue that the pack, assuming all key customers are in good health, looks particularly settled and reasonably obvious for the Pumas date in Port Elizabeth, albeit with Frans Malherbe probably returning as first-choice tighthead at the expense of last Saturday’s so-so debutant Ruan Dreyer.

There will be an almighty scrap between veteran Tendai Mtawarira and Steven Kitshoff for the No 1 jersey; the latter has a double-figure tally in caps as a substitute and his admirers will rightly be baying for an overdue start after his thunderous showing off the Johannesburg bench.

If Whiteley is able to return at No 8, then muscular Jean-Luc du Preez switching back to more favoured No 7 and Siya Kolisi continuing his growth as the open-side flank seems the entirely sensible step; Jaco Kriel could be a fantastic second-half marauder as a substitute at the outset of the Championship.

At scrumhalf, Ross Cronje made promising strides in his two Tests at the beginning of the French series, until concussion ruled him out of the dead-rubber game and Francois Hougaard, frankly, did very little to advance his own claims for a more permanent recall in his once-off opportunity at Ellis Park - the Lions man should seize back his place immediately.

The back three was, I’d suggest, the one major area of continued Bok instability during the French clashes, with Raymond Rhule looking a little fragile on defence at No 14 and potentially opening up fresh gaps for seasoned customers like either Bryan Habana (albeit now 34 years old) or that big, strong-striding unit JP Pietersen (offering more medium-term scope, at age 30).

Fullback? There is a good case for sticking with the steady enough Andries Coetzee, albeit that he hardly looked laden with X-factor against France, and I would be extremely partial to highly versatile Frans Steyn getting another crack in the last line of defence.

He has looked suitably hungry and sharp in shortish midfield appearances off the bench recently and the booming length of his kicking game - off tee and out of hand - and physical sturdiness are appealing qualities for No 15, a role he has previously occupied 14 times on a starting basis amidst his 56 caps.

*My preferred Bok starting XV, fitness and other factors permitting, for the Rugby Championship opener against Argentina in Port Elizabeth on August 19; in brackets are a couple of desperately close calls which could acceptably go either way:

15 Frans Steyn (or Andries Coetzee), 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff (or Tendai Mtawarira)

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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Fixtures
Saturday, 09 June 2018
New Zealand v France, Auckland 09:35
Australia v Ireland, Brisbane 12:05
South Africa v England, Johannesburg 17:05
Saturday, 16 June 2018
New Zealand v France, Wellington 09:35
Australia v Ireland, Melbourne 12:05
South Africa v England, Bloemfontein 17:05
Saturday, 23 June 2018
New Zealand v France, Dunedin 09:35
Australia v Ireland, Sydney 12:05
South Africa v England, Cape Town 17:05
Saturday, 18 August 2018
South Africa v Argentina, Durban 00:00
Saturday, 25 August 2018
Argentina v South Africa, TBA 00:00
Saturday, 08 September 2018
Australia v South Africa, Brisbane 00:00
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