The defeat to Argentina presented the Bok coach with an ideal opportunity to try something different. Only the two losses suffered by Heyneke Meyer’s team last year against Los Pumas in Durban and Japan in Brighton – okay, let’s not forget Jake White’s 49-0 whitewash in Australia – were lower points in South African rugby than what happened in Salta at the weekend.
Coetzee had given this group of players five Tests to prove themselves, and while that may not be enough for some players to be judged fairly, others are clearly not up to scratch at the moment, and nothing suggests that those staying in the team to take on the Wallabies and All Blacks are going to change that situation.
Instead, Coetzee stubbornly stuck with the 26-man squad on Tuesday that went down 26-24 at the weekend, adding just Francois Hougaard (back from injury) and Lwazi Mvovo (replacing the injured Ruan Combrinck).
Where are the fresh faces? Where are the in-form Super Rugby stars? And even though some of them are in the squad, it is highly unlikely that they are going to be picked in the starting line-up ahead of the team that ran out at Salta.
The Bok coach himself mentioned Cheslin Kolbe as someone he is considering, but couldn’t pick initially due to his involvement with the Blitzboks at the Rio Olympics.
Now that he is available, the Western Province fullback has to be content with playing Currie Cup rugby while a makeshift No 15 in Johan Goosen is trying to find his feet in a new position.
And the continued sidelining of Gio Aplon doesn’t make sense. He is a proven fullback who is in top form in the same French league that Goosen is playing in, and has 17 Test caps to his name.
The 33-year-old scored yet another unbelievable solo try for Grenoble at the weekend, and would the ideal man to assist Kolbe in his development at Test level as well.
The former Cheetah Goosen is just not a natural fullback, and while he may have had a strong season for Racing Metro at outside centre, his best position is flyhalf, so he needs to be the back-up No 10 to Elton Jantjies at the moment in the absence of Handré Pollard and Patrick Lambie.
Coetzee waxed lyrical about Morné Steyn’s experience and the fact that he supposedly won a game for the Boks before in Salta with late penalties, but the former Bulls stalwart fluffed his lines badly at the weekend – missing two shots at goal and an ill-advised drop goal attempt when the right decision would’ve been to hold on to front-foot ball just outside Argentina’s 22.
Mvovo had a tough time in Super Rugby for the Sharks, and while he was excellent in the Newlands Test against Ireland, he had a nightmare the next week in Ellis Park. Courtnall Skosan was outstanding for the Lions this year, and deserves an opportunity in an electric back-three with Kolbe and Habana in the absence of the injured Blitzbok superstar Seabelo Senatla.
Sikhumbuzo Notshe had a breakthrough season in Super Rugby, and was one of the most exciting South African loose forwards along with Jaco Kriel and Warren Whiteley. Those three should be the starting Bok loose trio.
Francois Louw has been a fine servant at openside flank over the years, but has battled to keep up with the intensity required at the breakdowns in 2016, and his contribution in general play has also dropped (not forgetting his brilliant back-handed pass to set up Habana’s try).
Tendai Mtawarira has done reasonably well for his adopted country at loosehead prop, and equalled Os du Randt’s record of 80 caps for a Bok No 1 in Salta. But rugby is a ruthless business, and sentiment cannot dictate selection.
Steven Kitshoff’s work-rate, scrummaging, defence and ball-carrying are visibly better than Mtawarira, while Trevor Nyakane has long been an energetic prop. They shouldn’t continue to wait for their opportunities, but don’t expect Mtawarira to be left out when the starting XV is named next week for the Wallaby Test in Brisbane.
Captain Adriaan Strauss was a genuine challenger to Bismarck du Plessis during the Meyer reign, but has been far from his best in 2016. Coetzee has created an unnecessary problem by naming Strauss as the captain for the year after the Ireland series, and is now reluctant to drop the skipper.
But it’s costing the Boks on the field, as both Bongi Mbonambi and the uncapped Malcolm Marx have proven in Super Rugby that they are much busier players around the field.
And it’s not as if the Boks are even capitalising on Strauss’ real strength of line-throwing, as they opted to go for the easy front ball for most of the Salta game.
Other high-octane players such as Pieter-Steph du Toit (for Lood de Jager), Juan de Jongh (for Damian de Allende) and Franco Mostert (on the bench) are also unlikely to feature prominently Down Under, and they are the types who would excel in a more attack-minded style of play that the Boks are currently trying to implement.
But with his selections, Coetzee is suggesting that he will stick to what he knows best – playing the percentages, relying on defence, putting the opposition under pressure and playing off their mistakes, while also kicking penalties over.
Let’s hope that is not the case, and that the coach really believes that the current group of players can continue on the attacking-based path that Coetzee adopted when he named his first squad for the Ireland series, which included a refreshing pick such as Sharks flyhalf Garth April.
It is hard to see things suddenly changing from the Salta game with the same starting team, though, and if it doesn’t, it could become really ugly in Brisbane (September 10) and Christchurch (September 17).
Forwards: Lourens Adriaanse, Lood de Jager, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Jaco Kriel, Francois Louw, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Oupa Mohoje, Franco Mostert, Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Warren Whiteley.
Backs: Damian de Allende, Juan de Jongh, Faf de Klerk, Johan Goosen, Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard, Elton Jantjies, Jesse Kriel, Lionel Mapoe, Lwazi Mvovo, Rudy Paige, Morné Steyn.
@ashfakmohamed - Independent Media
Original source: Same players, same results for Boks?