Cape Town - He threatened to “make some tough decisions” when it came to selection for the home Rugby Championship Tests, but Springbok coach Allister Coetzee’s loyalty to certain players knows no bounds after naming his latest squad.
Coetzee could still drastically change his starting XV for next week Saturday’s clash against the Wallabies in Pretoria, but looking at the 31-man group announced on Wednesday, that is highly unlikely.
“Maybe some players are not ready for this level yet, and I will have to make some tough decisions going back home,” Coetzee said following the 41-13 drubbing at the hands of the All Blacks in Christchurch.
He may have been referring to flyhalf Elton Jantjies, who has yet to convince at Test level this year, which is why it was not surprising to see Pat Lambie rushed back after playing for just 20 minutes following a three-month layoff with concussion.
But while Jantjies and possibly Faf de Klerk could be in danger of losing their places in the starting line-up, there were only really two new faces in the squad – Lambie and Willie le Roux.
A number of other starters who have battled for most of the year were retained in the squad, such as Tendai Mtawarira, captain Adriaan Strauss, Lood de Jager, Francois Louw, Damian de Allende, Johan Goosen and Lwazi Mvovo, while Willem Alberts was retained too.
So, with Mtawarira, Strauss, De Jager (before he was injured), Louw and Goosen in the starting line-up, it is hard to see Coetzee leaving any of them on the sidelines for the last two Championship Tests.
But then how can the Bok coach expect a different outcome with the same players who have flattered to deceive all season long?
With the tournament already won by the All Blacks, these last two games was an ideal opportunity for Coetzee to introduce some fresh blood ahead of the November tour to Europe.
Steven Kitshoff and Trevor Nyakane are both exciting options at loosehead prop, Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx must be given starts considering the fact that Strauss is retiring at the end of the season, Jaco Kriel and Rudy Paige need to be handed their first starts, and Lionel Mapoe deserves another shot at outside centre.
But there are others outside the squad who could’ve been brought into the Bok mix – SA Under-20 star fullback Curwin Bosch has been in top form for the Sharks in the Currie Cup, Frans Steyn could’ve shored up the midfield, Cheslin Kolbe or Gio Aplon could’ve added some real punch from fullback, and JP Pietersen would’ve brought some much-needed experience into the backline too.
But Willie le Roux is suddenly brought back after being dropped for poor form during the Ireland series. He has been at Japanese club Canon Eagles since August, with the club winning one out of four games, so what would’ve changed since he was left out of the Bok set-up?
With Goosen all over the place in his games against Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, a change is needed at No 15. But Le Roux was totally off his game against Ireland, and appeared to have lost his spark to create and bamboozle defences with his skill and speed.
It is clear that Coetzee is banking on a percentage game with minimal errors and a physical pack to get wins at Loftus and Kings Park, but that wasn’t enough in Salta, Brisbane or Christchurch. So why would it be now?
Forwards: Willem Alberts, Lood de Jager, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Jaco Kriel, Francois Louw, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Tebogo Mohoje, Franco Mostert, Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Julian Redelinghuys, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Warren Whiteley.
Backs: Damian de Allende, Juan de Jongh, Faf de Klerk, Johan Goosen, Bryan Habana (vice-captain), Francois Hougaard, Elton Jantjies, Jesse Kriel, Pat Lambie, Willie le Roux, Lionel Mapoe, Lwazi Mvovo, Rudy Paige, Morné Steyn.