Whiteley v Duane: Who should start?

2016-06-02 12:38
Warren Whiteley (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - One of the toughest decisions facing Springbok coach Allister Coetzee ahead of the first Test against Ireland on June 11 is who to start at No 8. 

It all boils down to Warren Whiteley v Duane Vermeulen - and there are very strong cases for both players. 

If they had to present reasons why they should be given the nod, then Whiteley's argument would surely be the simpler of the two. 

He has been in exceptional form for one-and-a-half Super Rugby seasons and is exactly the type of linking player that the Boks need in their endeavour to become a more attractive, ball-playing team. 

There is not much more that the Lions skipper can do to convince that he belongs on the international stage. 

It wasn't enough for him to crack the nod under Heyneke Meyer - Whiteley was left out of the 2015 Rugby World Cup squad - but in this new era of Bok rugby the 28-year-old will surely fancy his chances. 

Without Vermeulen in the equation, Whiteley's selection would be a no-brainer. 

But Vermeulen is one of just three overseas-based players that Coetzee has invited to be a part of the Bok squad to play Ireland. 

For that reason alone - that he has been asked to come home at a time when locally-based players are being backed over their overseas-based colleagues - it is hard to see Coetzee wasting a flight ticket on Vermeulen. 

Considered one of the best No 8s in world rugby, Vermeulen has notched up 35 caps for the Springboks since 2012 - all of them in a starting role and all of them at No 8. 

At a time of new beginnings, Coetzee will be desperate to have some kind of experience in his side and at least an element of continuity carrying over from the 2015 World Cup squad. 

Vermeulen provides both of those things.

One of only two stumbling blocks in selecting Vermeulen is that his contract with Toulon is a three-year deal, keeping him at the club until at least 2018. 

With SA Rugby having been vocal on their decision to re-evaluate their policy when it comes to picking overseas-based players, that could be a problem in the future.

The other issue in backing Vermeulen against Ireland is how it might impact on Whiteley. 

He would never say it - the team always comes first - but being sidelined again would surely sting Whiteley, especially given how well he has been playing. 

The Springbok squad is currently 31-strong and Coetzee has said that four players in that set-up will join the SA 'A' squad ahead of their clash against the English Saxons on June 10.

There are currently 23 players in the SA 'A' squad, with that number set to increase to 27 once Coetzee has decided who is surplus to requirements in the Bok squad. 

With coach Johan Ackermann not yet having named a skipper for the SA 'A' side, the prospect of Whiteley moving down to fill that role begins to look like a possibility. 

But that would be no consolation for a man who is in the form of his life.


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