Bokke looking for change?

Coetzee has announced his squad to take on the French as part of the incoming tour in June, and most notably announced the new captain, Warren Whiteley, as the leader to take this young side back to the top. He has also announced a very strong SA A side to take on the on the French Barbarians around the same time. I am going to give my opinions on the squads as a whole, eventually coming to a personal starting 23 for each team based on their current form.

Let’s kick things off by discussing Warren Whiteley. He has proven himself to be one of the best and most humble leaders in Super Rugby over the past couple of seasons. No one is questioning his leadership ability, or his ability to join together a group and lead by example. There are, however, a few question marks surrounding his place ahead of Duane Vermeulen as starting eighth man. I personally do not believe that Vermeulen is a better eighth man than Whiteley, however they are two completely different styles of loose forward. I believe that by appointing Whiteley as captain, Coetzee has laid out his statement of intent to focus on a more wide, attacking style of play. This suggests that, unlike last year, Coetzee actually has a gameplan in mind for his Boks. I feel that there is no better option at eighth man than Whiteley if this style of play is going to be explored, as he has pace, power and strong defensive game to help link the forwards and the backs, as he does with the Lions in Super Rugby. Vermeulen, on the other hand, offers little more than power, which has its merits in the old school South African style of play that lied heavily on pods and forward play, however as the game evolves, so must the players.

Focusing on the forward pack more generally, I believe that Tendai Mtawarira is very lucky to be in the squad, as he does not have the best scrummaging technique, his ball skills are often lacking, and he has given away slightly more than his fair share of penalties (not only at scrum time). For exactly the opposite reasons, Ox Nche should feel very hard-done-by as he has proven this season that he has good open field skills, his scrumming matches up with international opposition, and he has the power and determination on both attack and defence that the Beast has been lacking over the past few seasons. Ruan Dreyer’s inclusion pleases me, as it shows that Coetzee has rewarded form. I would suggest that, despite the lack of experience, a front row of Nche, Malcolm Marx and Dreyer would be a dominant line up that could more than match up to that of the French. However, as Nche has been placed in the SA A side, I would say that Kitshoff should start alongside Dreyer and Marx, and Mtawarira should take notes on scrumming from the sidelines.

The lock set up is to be as expected, with Eben Etzebeth and Piter-Steph du Toit occupying the no. 4 and 5 jerseys. De Jager is lucky to be given a chance in the Springbok squad, given his terrible form for the Bulls this season. As such, Franco Mostert, who has the most linnet steals in the entire competition this season, should at the very least be given the bench spot ahead of the former Cheetahs lock.

Jaco Kriel is the obvious choice to wear number 6, as he has out and out pace, power, and has improved his fetching portfolio over the last season. Kriel is touted as being in competition for the jersey with Siya Kolisi, however, I do not believe that Coetzee should have to choose between the two, as Kolisi can fill in at number 7. Kolisi has some power and rucking acumen that Kriel could possibly lack, and Kolisi can provide good cover for the more mobile and linking Lions loose forwards. Alternatively, the option of moving Vermeulen to 7 is one that Coetzee has been open about, and it will be a good solution to the dilemma of Whiteley vs Vermeulen mentioned above. That would mean that Kolisi would cover the loosies from the bench.

The Backline, however is much more difficult to discuss. At scrum half, there are no real standout performers this season, as South African scrum halves have been mediocre at best. Ross Cronje has developed his game to be more balanced between tactical decision making, kicking and sniping runs, however he still needs find his X-factor. Cobus Reinach, who some believe is the country’s best scrum half, is in my opinion too bland and unremarkable. Reinach obviously does not make too many costly errors, however he lacks inspiration on attack, and seldom looks to think creatively and play what is in front of him. Rudy Paige, as I have said in other entries, is benefitting from being one of the few scrum halves of colour in South Africa, and he should not be seen as anything more than worst case scenario injury cover. It is for all these reasons that I believe Francois Hougaard should start at 9 in the opening clash with the French. He has fiery pace, a solid tactical boot, and his decision making on the ball has been good. He will also provide some much needed experience in a very inexperienced backline.

Outside Hougaard, there is only one choice at flyhalf, as Elton Jantjies is the only out and out flyhalf picked in the squad. Some would argue that Francois Steyn should run out at 10, however I will get to Steyn a little later. Jantjies has proven this season in Super Rugby that his boot is no longer an issue, and although he has been found wanting on defence once or twice, he has never backed down from bigger attackers. On attack, he has shown time and time again that he is extremely good on the gainline. He attacks space, has a great skill set, and even crashes the ball up if he has no runners to distribute to.

The real trouble comes in the form of the other backs in the Springbok squad. As the only specialist left wing in the squad, Courtnall Skosan is most likely to run out wearing number 11, while it is a toss-up between Dillyn Leyds and Raymond Rhule on the right wing, as those are the only wings named in the entire Bok squad. Couple this with the incredibly strong possibility of Andries Coetzee making his debut at fullback and you have a back three with exactly zero international test caps across the board. Realistically, Jesse Kriel will run out wearing 15, however, he has been listed as a centre by SARU. I think that Ruan Combrinck, who granted has not had that many test matches himself, should have been included despite his recent return from a long injury. Combrinck would provide some much needed power in the back three, and slightly more experience on the right wing than Leyds and Rhule. That being said, I do agree that a player coming back from injury should be given time to ease back into full competition, and so I liked seeing the Lions use Combrinck in the SuperSport Challenge when he first got back onto the pitch. It is for this reason that I disagree with the inclusion of Damian de Allende in the Bok squad, as he has similarly recently returned from injury and should be given time in the SA A side to prove himself again like Combrinck.

On that mention of the centres, the lack of established centre combination in the Bok squad is glaring. Kriel and De Allende, despite playing together under Heyneke Meyer, do not compliment one another, and I believe that Kriel should be played at fullback. I also think that Francois Steyn is the answer to the Bok prayers at 12, as he can provide calming experience, good power and general ball skills, and has played constantly well for Montpellier as inside centre for the past couple of seasons. Therefore his outside centre is a matter of little consequence, as I believe that he can aid anyone into performing well in that role. That being said, Lukhanyo Am and Jan Serfontein are the only real contenders for the outside centre role, and with the back three looking as green as it does, logic would dictate that Serfontein start at 13 as he has some international experience.

The SA A squad looks like it could be very competitive with the proper structure and gameplan, and under Johan Ackermann, I believe they should pull out a series win over the French Barbarians. With so many capped Springboks in the squad, the SA A side seems like it is Coetzee’s testing side for combinations that he could use at a higher level come 2019.

So here are my picks for the first SA A match day 23:

  1. Ox Nche
  2. Franco Marais
  3. Trevor Nyakane
  4. Andries Ferreira
  5. Jason Jenkins
  6. Chris Cloete
  7. Jean-Luc du Preez
  8. Sikhombuzo Notshe
  9. Dewalt Duvenage
  10. Lionel Cronje
  11. Jamba Ulengo
  12. Harold Vorster
  13. Lionel Mapoe
  14. Ruan Combrinck
  15. Warrick Gelant
  16. Ramone Samuels
  17. Thomas du Toit
  18. Wilco Louw
  19. Ruan Botha
  20. Andise Ntsila
  21. Jano Vermaak
  22. Fred Zeilinga
  23. Makazole Mapimpi

And my Springbok run-on 23:

  1. Steven Kitshoff
  2. Malcolm Marx
  3. Ruan Dreyer
  4. Eben Etzebeth
  5. Franco Mostert
  6. Jaco Kriel
  7. Duane Vermuelen
  8. Warren Whiteley (Captain)
  9. Francois Hougaard
  10. Elton Jantjies
  11. Courtnall Skosan
  12. Francois Steyn
  13. Jan Serfontein
  14. Dillyn Leyds
  15. Jesse Kriel
  16. Bongi Mbonambi
  17. Tendai Mtawarira
  18. Lizo Gqoboka
  19. Pieter-Steph du Toit
  20. Siya Kolisi
  21. Ross Cronje
  22. Andries Coetzee
  23. Lukhanyo Am

If you agree or disagree with anything that I have mentioned above, please feel free to comment or subscribe.

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