Coetzee’s first fray with the poisoned chalice

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Once he's announced the 31-man Springbok squad for the three-Test series against Ireland starting on June 11 at Newlands there will be intense scrutiny far and wide.

This is what usually follows with every Springbok announcement. The selections or non-selections of players will be at the heart of the brouhaha and will overshadow the first insights into Coetzee's thinking as the national team's mentor. Since his appointment, Coetzee has not given any idea of the criteria that will underpin his Springbok selections.

Topping the criteria list has to be transformation, given all the recent noises of Fikile Mbalula, the Minister of Sport and Recreation. It will be uppermost in his mind that the Springbok team for the next Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019 will have to satisfy certain demands.

The matter of captain has been a major topic. It is anyone's guess whether he'll be locally-based or drawn from the ranks of the foreign legion.

There has also been much debate about how many oversea-based players will be called up. It is expected that Coetzee will give preference to local players and that could in a small way help to stem the tide of the country's finest talents moving abroad. The all-important pivot position will be the least of Coetzee's concerns now that the vastly-improved Elton Jantjies is on the injury list. Patrick Lambie is regaining his best form after an injury lay-off and for now, he selects himself.

The injured Handre Pollard out of the picture at this time. Some thought will have to be given to Lambie's back-up. Johan Goosen looks a good bet since he has been in good form for Racing 92 in France although he has been playing mostly at centre. Lionel Mapoe has been consistently good at outside centre for the Lions this season and he's done enough to get Coetzee's nod.

Jan Serfontein looks to have the inside lane for the No 12 jumper, given his steady improvement of late. Damian de Allende is the other contender, although he is way off his best since coming back from an injury-enforced lay-off. Jesse Kriel is the other centre in the running and Juan de Jongh will be away on Sevens duties.

Kriel may also be considered for a fullback berth along with Willie le Roux and Cheslin Kolbe. Le Roux is returning to his best form and Kolbe offers an exciting option. However, if experience is a decisive factor, Le Roux will end up donning the No 15 jersey. JP Pietersen has had outstanding moments this season and Ruan Combrinck has consistently caught the eye on the wing.

These two appear to be the pick of the wings. Lwazi Mvovo, Courtnall Skosan and even Sergeal Petersen have strong enough claims for inclusion in the squad.

At scrumhalf, Faf de Klerk has inspired confidence and Rudy Paige has gone off the boil after his brief World Cup stint last year. If experience is going to count, the Ireland-based Ruan Pienaar will the man. Francois Hougaard has opted to make a claim for a Bok Sevens berth for the Rio Olympics.

The loose forward contingent will be without the injured Schalk Burger. Duane Vermeulen is still the best No 8 and Warren Whiteley shapes up as his understudy. Form dictates that Jaco Kriel will be one of the flanks along with Francois Louw. Lappies Labuschagne and Siya Kolisi have been impressive and should be next in the pecking order.

Nizaam Carr and Paul Schoeman will also come into consideration. In the second row, Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit are the front-runners. Lood de Jager has not been at his best but still nevertheless a huge talent and will be in the squad. Franco Mostert, RG Snyman and Oupa Mohoje will all come into the reckoning.

Frans Malherbe is the pick of the tighthead props and Julian Redelinghuys looks like the next best. On the other side of the scrum, Beast Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane and Vincent Koch are the leading contenders. This week, loosehead Steven Kitshoff has been widely tipped for a call-up.

At hooker, Adriaan Strauss is the leading contender and he also has captaincy claims. Behind him in the queue could be anyone of Edgar Marutlulle, Scarra Ntubeni and Bongi Mbonambi.

There is also hope for the players who don't crack the nod on Saturday evening. Usually, the selectors compile a 'standby list' in the event of injuries which in the past have also occurred during training sessions.

There not should be a lack of depth in most positions this time around.

The Springbok squad announcement will be followed by the naming of the SA 'A' team to face the England Saxons in Bloemfontein's Toyota Stadium on Friday, 10 June, and Outeniqua Park, in George, on Friday, 17 June.

African News Agency

Original source: Coetzee's first fray with the poisoned chalice

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