The Bok squad dilemma


Coetzee will announce his eagerly-awaited Springbok squad to play in a three-match Test series against Ireland with the first Test pencilled down for the iconic cathedral of South African rugby at Newlands in Cape Town.

Coetzee’s ascension to the highest rugby job in the land was riddled with unnecessary delays and administrative bungles from his employers at the South African Rugby Union (Saru) but they will be nothing compared to the weeks he has had in the build-up to his first squad announcement.

One of the most contentious points of Coetzee’s selection criteria that has been under the media microscope for the past few weeks is whether the former Stormers coach will take into consideration historical form and players that had been incumbents in the team under former coach Heyneke Meyer or will he’s tenure be a case of a new broom sweeping clean.

It is inconceivable that he will rely solely on last year’s incumbents to form the spine of his squad as many of Meyer’s players have either moved on to retirement or abroad and some have fallen down the pecking order due to the indifferent form shown in this year’s Super Rugby competition.

And form will play a major factor in how Coetzee goes about selecting his squad and if that is the case then the bulk of his squad will be justifiably made up of Lions and Bulls players with a sprinkling of Sharks and Stormers players.

Though Super Rugby form needs to be rewarded, the reality of international rugby against one of the northern hemisphere’s formidable outfits means Coetzee can’t ignore experience and this is where the names of Toulon-based Duane Vermeulen and Bath-based Francois Louw take prominence in the squad.

While there have been no obvious candidates to take over the captaincy role from now-retired Fourie du Preez and Jean de Villiers, Vermeulen and Louw will be top of Coetzee’s list to lead the team, at least for the series against Ireland.Then there is the pivotal discussion on who will be the team’s starting flyhalf in light of the injury suffered by Elton Jantjies, who is the best No?10 in the land at the moment.

Patrick Lambie’s timely return from a shoulder injury puts him in contention for the first Test against Ireland and the likely candidate to be the side’s vice-captain but what will happen when Jantjies is fit again, probably in time for the second Test in Joburg?

Another headache for Coetzee will be at scrumhalf where Du Preez has left a gaping void and with none of the current players showing consistent form to be overwhelming favourites for the job.

Will Coetzee put his trust in the Bulls' Rudy Paige whose form has been hampered by injury or will Faf de Klerk get the nod for his tireless toil or will the coach be conservative and call on old head Ruan Pienaar?

Then there is the dilemma in midfield where hardly any players have put up their hands besides the obvious exploits of Lionel Mapoe at outside centre for the Lions.

He is certain to add to his two minutes of international rugby when he runs on against Ireland but who will be on his inside?Damian de Allende could claim to have the inside lane but is yet to show the same form that made him the obvious choice last year.

Spare a thought for Stormers captain Juan de Jongh, who should be fit to play by the first Test, a man who was overlooked in Meyer’s time in charge and a player who has never embarrassed the Green and Gold.

Could this be his time to get a reasonable and fair chance to prove his worth?Is there still life in the Springbok team for the likes of Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Bryan Habana and a handful of other youngsters who have set the European scene alight with their performances in recent weeks, men like Racing Metro’s Johan Goosen?

But the big issue for Coetzee is the demographic composition of his squad.Transformation is a concept loathed by a few but the dream of millions and it is how Coetzee negotiates the minefield of taking rugby forward in winning and embracing black talent that could see him become the most loved or hated man in South African sport.

Saturday Star

Original source: The Bok squad dilemma