On the one hand, Springbok coach Allister Coetzee seems to be fighting fire with fire with his decision to pick a lock at flank in Du Toit, and using a blindsider in Alberts at openside after naming a team with seven changes on Friday for Saturday’s clash at Twickenham.
Jones has picked a similar loose trio, with two blindsiders in Tom Wood and Chris Robshaw, with the explosive Billy Vunipola at No 8. But who exactly is going to slow them down?
If Coetzee was worried about Vunipola’s ability to blast his way over the gain-line, then why not pick Alberts at No 8? That wouldn’t even have been necessary, though, as Oupa Mohoje has done a fine job on defence all season long. For Mohoje to be unceremoniously axed is a harsh call from the Bok coach, as it also affects Du Toit’s game.
The Stormers man is a dynamic No 5 and his running lines and defence are both outstanding for a second-rower. Now he’s suddenly expected to fulfil a flank’s role, which is unfair on him when he doesn’t play there at all for his franchise. And who could forget that ill-fated day against Japan, when Du Toit was picked ahead of Siya Kolisi at No 7?
Coetzee needed to pick someone at No 6 who could play towards the ball, and that should’ve been Nizaam Carr.
The Stormers star had his breakthrough season in 2014 in that position under Coetzee, and has played there this year too. He has the experience of two Test caps, so won’t be overawed by playing in front of 80 000 people, and has the agility and technique to contest hard at the breakdowns.
Carr would certainly beat Robshaw and Wood in a foot race, and most definitely Alberts, yet he is only on the bench.
But Coetzee defended his loose-trio selection. “Willem Alberts is an experienced Test player and has been to Twickenham before. We’ve got a lot of youngsters out there that could’ve done the job maybe, but I think we’ve got to make sure we expose young players in their Test careers at the right time,” he said at a press conference on Friday.
“Willem Alberts has done it before - he plays at No 7 for his club, and they play right and left. So at some stages on the field, he is an openside anyway. And I feel that that is the combination that we need on the field this weekend.
“It’s the best possible side that I could’ve selected, in my opinion.”
The decision to field Damian de Allende and Francois Venter as the centre pair is also difficult to comprehend. De Allende has been well off his game since he returned from an ankle injury during Super Rugby, and struggled badly for the Boks during the Rugby Championship - to the extent that he was dropped for Juan de Jongh.
De Allende was eventually brought back for the 57-15 defeat to the All Blacks and while he was a bit better in that game, he wasn’t convincing enough to warrant selection for the England Test.
In contrast, Rohan Janse van Rensburg has been burning up the rugby field throughout 2016, and proved his ability once more with an impressive performance against the Barbarians last week.
The way the Lions No 12 is able to engage defenders when he has ball in hand would’ve been ideal for the Boks in what is expected to be wet conditions on Saturday. Yes, he has to work on his defence, but the positives on attack far outweigh the negatives elsewhere.
And the man who should’ve partnered Janse van Rensburg at Twickenham is Lionel Mapoe. The Lions No 13 was the best South African centre in Super Rugby and most observers would agree that he suffered at the Boks due to De Allende’s tendency to line up too deep on attack, and hold on to the ball too long.
Bryan Habana is not yet 100% ready after he was cleared to play earlier in the week after sustaining a knee injury on club duty. So the selection of JP Pietersen and Ruan Combrinck at wing is the right one, while Willie le Roux’s return at fullback is welcome under the circumstances.
Teams for Twickenham
Springboks: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Willem Alberts, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Bench: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Johan Goosen, 23 Lionel Mapoe.
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Mako Vunipola. Bench: 16 Jamie George, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Kyle Winckler, 19 Dave Atwood, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Jonathan Joseph.
Original source: Coetzee explains Alberts selection