De­spite Ver­meulen’s in­jury, Bok men­tor is spoilt for choice in the loosies depart­ment

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - VATA NGOBENI

THE SPATE of in­juries that have sud­denly be­fallen the Spring­bok team will force coach Al­lis­ter Coet­zee to se­lect a pre­dom­i­nantly lo­cal – more specif­i­cally –Lions-based side ahead of the first Test against France at Loftus Vers­feld on Satur­day.

Hard man Duane Ver­meulen, along with Storm­ers cen­tre Damian de Al­lende, have been ruled out of the Test, while Lions util­ity back Lionel Mapoe is doubt­ful due to a ham­string in­jury.

Ver­meulen was al­ways go­ing to be doubt­ful for the open­ing Test as he played for French club Toulon in the Top 14 fi­nal on Sun­day, and hav­ing picked up a shoul­der in­jury, the door is now open for Siya Kolisi to start at num­ber seven, with Jaco Kriel set for a Test start at open­side flank.

The sever­ity of Ver­meulen’s in­jury will only be as­sessed upon his ar­rival, but this will buy Coet­zee enough time to see whether the com­bi­na­tion of War­ren White­ley, Kolisi and Kriel is the best go­ing for­ward, with all three hav­ing shown good form in Su­per Rugby.

“This is lit­tle dis­rup­tion, to be hon­est. We have been pre­par­ing with the play­ers that have been at our camps, es­pe­cially last week’s camp in Plett. Ob­vi­ously a player like Duane comes with mas­sive ex­pe­ri­ence and good knowl­edge of the French, but I will wait and see when he gets here. But I have no doubt, given the op­por­tu­nity given to other play­ers and the at­ti­tude I’ve seen in the past week, there is a clear in­di­ca­tion that they will bring it, with­out a doubt,” Coet­zee said.

As much as Ver­meulen’s loss will be a mas­sive blow in terms of dom­i­nat­ing the phys­i­cal stakes in what is ex­pected to be a bruis­ing bat­tle against the French, it is the avail­able loose trio’s abil­ity to fit in to the ex­pan­sive game that will be a bonus for Coet­zee, who of­ten cites find­ing a bal­ance in the way he wants his team to play.

While the scales may be tipped in favour of Kolisi fill­ing in the va­cant num­ber seven jersey, Coet­zee could also con­sider start­ing with Oupa Mo­hoje, who is a bet­ter li­ne­out op­tion and thrives on the trench war­fare, with Kolisi pos­si­bly mov­ing to open­side flank.

Coet­zee looks spoilt for choice with his op­tions at loose for­ward and with Jean-Luc du Preez also com­ing into the reck­on­ing, it seems like the Spring­boks won’t be crip­pled much by Ver­meulen’s ab­sence.

“What we should look at is the way we want to play, ob­vi­ously, and what his as­sets as a player have been, in the sense of Duane Ver­meulen. You have to weigh up set-piece, big ball car­rier and a lot of things and what we are fac­ing. What you gain on the swings you might lose on the round­abouts, so there is no per­fect fit. I’ve got to try and make sure we have the best of what Duane could bring. But it is not about Duane only, we’ve got qual­ity play­ers in the coun­try and I’m sure they will fit into the plan,” said Coet­zee.

Coet­zee’s big­gest se­lec­tion, though, will be in the back­line with De Al­lende ruled out be­cause of a haematoma, while Mapoe strug­gles with a ham­string in­jury. This leaves Coet­zee’s op­tions thin at cen­tre and at wing.

Mapoe will be in a race against time to gain full fit­ness this week, as he will be in a con­trolled train­ing schedule. This means Storm­ers util­ity back Dil­lon Lleyds could pos­si­bly make his Test de­but on the right wing, with Cort­nall Skosan on the left. Jan Ser­fontein and Jesse Kriel seem to be the pre­ferred cen­tre pair­ing, with An­dries Coet­zee be­ing the ob­vi­ous choice at full­back.

Coet­zee could also look at Frans Steyn at cen­tre and Fran­cois Hougaard at scrumhalf, but the duo would come into the squad at a late stage, with the coach opt­ing to go with play­ers he has worked with re­cently.

“We’ve not just lost Damian and Lionel, we’ve also lost Lukhanyo Am so we’ve lost three cen­tres. We might see that (lo­cally-based play­ers) for the right rea­sons, be­cause we are re­ward­ing play­ers who have per­formed well and have trained with the team, and it will be the sec­ond week into train­ing be­fore the first Test.”


OUT OF AC­TION: Spring­bok Duane Ver­meulen will miss the first Test against France this week­end.

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