Aus­tralia the acid test for Coet­zee’s Boks

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - RACING - JAC­QUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN

THEY’RE com­ing off a 57-0 hid­ing and des­per­ate to show they’re not that bad, but don’t ex­pect Spring­bok coach Al­lis­ter Coet­zee to make whole­sale changes to the team that crashed to the All Blacks just over a week ago.

Coet­zee – who will tell you he prefers to see a glass half full rather than half empty – seemed to still find pos­i­tives from that maul­ing in Al­bany a week ago,even though the Boks con­ceded eight tries, didn’t score a point, crum­bled in the scrums, col­lapsed in the li­ne­outs, failed to threaten the op­po­si­tion line and slipped off tack­les as if the All Blacks play­ers had grease on their jer­seys.

It was a hu­mil­i­at­ing day for the Boks – and for the his­tory of Test rugby in this coun­try.

But as cap­tain Eben Etze­beth said a week ago when he lead his team back into the coun­try at OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional, it was the first de­feat the team has suf­fered this year and that, hope­fully, it was a one-off bad day at the of­fice.

True. The Boks, un­til last Satur­day, had shown signs of pro­gres­sion af­ter the dis­as­ters of 2016, win­ning three times against France, twice against Ar­gentina and draw­ing with Aus­tralia, in Perth. It’s still, over­all, been a pretty good run in 2017 for Coet­zee and his Boks. But, los­ing 57-0 to the All Blacks al­most wipes out the “good”, with the whole sea­son vir­tu­ally re­ly­ing on what hap­pens now at home against Aus­tralia and New Zealand, and then on the Novem­ber tour of Europe.

First up for the Boks are the Wal­la­bies in Bloem­fontein on Satur­day, a side Coet­zee’s team drew 23-23 with a fort­night ago. It’s a match the Boks will feel they should’ve and could’ve won, but they’ll rue a poor first half when there was sim­ply too much kick­ing by the visi­tors. They’ll back them­selves to get the win in Bloem­fontein, but then they’re go­ing to have to put be­hind them the Al­bany dis­as­ter as quickly as pos­si­ble.

Rep­u­ta­tions took a beat­ing last week­end, among them wing Ray­mond Rhule, who’s copped plenty of flak for nine missed tack­les, hooker Mal­colm Marx for miss­ing his li­ne­out men, props Ruan Dreyer and Trevor Nyakane, scrumhalf Fran­cois Hougaard and the en­tire back­row of Uzair Cassiem, Jean-Luc du Preez and Siya Kolisi, who were com­pre­hen­sively out­played by their op­po­site num­bers.

Hougaard has sub­se­quently been booted out of the squad, with the Sharks’ Louis Schreuder com­ing in, even though he’s un­likely to fea­ture in the next two weeks, while the ad­di­tion of winger S’bu Nkosi gives Coet­zee an ex­tra op­tion among his out­side backs.

Vet­eran flank Fran­cois Louw is also back, com­ing in for the in­jured Jaco Kriel. So who will Coet­zee turn to to help re­store Bok pride?

He’s not likely to make sweep­ing changes, which will re­sult in An­dries Coet­zee re­main­ing at 15, with the cen­tre pair­ing of Jan Ser­fontein and Jesse Kriel also stay­ing in­tact. El­ton Jan­tjies is sure to re­main at 10, but a healthy Ross Cronje will re­turn at scrumhalf, with pos­si­bly Rudy Paige as his back-up. Who plays on the wings is any­one’s guess, but it wouldn’t be a sur­prise if Dil­lyn Leyds came in on the left in place of Rhule, the Western Prov­ince man bring­ing size, pace and X-fac­tor to the back­three.

At only 21 and still raw, Nkosi is un­likely to start, but he might get a look in on the bench.

Up front, there could be sev­eral changes, or very few. Louw, with all his ex­pe­ri­ence, his size and his ball-win­ning abil­ity on the ground, is al­most cer­tain to start at open­side flank, with Kolisi at seven. Cassiem, see­ing that the match is on his home patch and hasn’t re­ally done any­thing wrong to be dropped, may re­main at eighth­man, but Coet­zee will also con­sider in­volv­ing Sharks man Daniel du Preez.

Etze­beth will lead the side at num­ber four lock, but any one of Franco Mostert, Lood de Jager and Pi­eter-Steph du Toit could fill the No 5 jumper po­si­tion and do the call­ing. Mostert will be des­per­ate to make up for the com­mu­ni­ca­tion er­rors made in Al­bany, but his start­ing is no guar­an­tee.

Then there’s the front row. Is it time to hand the hugely im­pres­sive­off-the-bench Steven Kit­shoff a start ahead of Beast Mtawarira and also see what Bongi Mbonambi and Chili­boy Rale­pelle bring to the set-up at hooker?

Leav­ing out the pow­er­ful and bril­liant ball-scav­eng­ing hooker that is Marx would be a bit un­fair though, espe­cially af­ter just one poor li­ne­out show­ing in New Zealand when there are more peo­ple than just the hooker at play in the No 2 find­ing his li­ne­out jumper.

And with the Boks’ three first choice tight­head props side­lined, it’s a mat­ter of go­ing with Ruan Dreyer – again, de­spite him con­vinc­ing at Test level – or Trevor Nyakane, who’s ac­tu­ally a loose­head, or the un­tried but hugely promis­ing Wilco Louw. Ex­pect the lat­ter to get a crack. But how Coet­zee must wish for a Ju­lian Redel­inghuys, Frans Mal­herbe or Coe­nie Oosthuizen to call on right now.

There’s plenty for Coet­zee and his as­sis­tants to pon­der in the com­ing days. Most of all though, he dare not lose against the Wal­la­bies, not with the All Blacks wait­ing for the Boks in Cape Town where it’ll be “neu­tral ground” in the match that may make or break Coet­zee and his Boks of 2017.


BOK AC­TION? It will be in­ter­est­ing to see what roles Fran­cois Louw, Dil­lyn Leyds and Wilco Louw play in the up­com­ing Test against Aus­tralia in Bloem­fontein.

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