Johannesburg - How the Springboks could do with a settled midfield combination.
Not since 2011 when Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie were considered the best 12-13 pairing in the game have the Boks boasted a midfield duo that’s brought comfort and excitement.
Five years on from when De Villiers and Fourie carved up the best defences in rugby and the Boks are still trying to find the right mix in midfield; a problem as big and significant as the halfback issues facing coach Allister Coetzee and his coaching team at the moment.
Serious questions are being asked about the ability of Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies and whether Coetzee should continue with them as the first choice scrumhalf and flyhalf in the national team, but outside them there are serious questions, too.
Coetzee used Damian de Allende and Lionel Mapoe in midfield in the three Tests against Ireland in June, and twice against Argentina, and then changed them for Juan de Jongh and Jesse Kriel for the last two Tests against Australia and New Zealand. Neither pairing looked comfortable or settled, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.
De Allende and Mapoe wouldn’t have played alongside each other before, and De Allende wouldn’t have played with Jantjies on his inside before, either.
Move on to the Rugby Championship and one’s got to wonder how often De Jongh and Kriel would have played next to each other? And, again, De Jongh at 12, would hardly have played outside flyhalf Jantjies.
Should we then be surprised the Bok backs have looked like strangers to each other so far under the guidance of Coetzee. None of them have done anything with ball in hand to suggest they’re a perfect fit and, defensively, they’ve also pretty much been all-at-sea.
So who next will Coetzee try?
Well, the De Allende-Kriel combination hasn’t been tried yet this year, but maybe it should.
The combination was, after all, the Boks’ first choice one in the latter stages of last year, at the World Cup.
De Allende and Kriel started all five Tests – against Scotland, USA, Wales, New Zealand and Argentina – after captain De Villiers got injured in the Boks’ second game of the World Cup, against Samoa.
It is clear that the De Allende-Kriel combination worked to a degree and was favoured by former coach Heyneke Meyer and should perhaps be considered as the pairing for the home Rugby Championship matches. At least the two players know each other and, if we’re honest, the Boks have nothing to lose right now.
But then Coetzee could always try De Jongh and Mapoe; the former a man who knows and understands what the coach wants; the latter a player who’s hardly been given a fair deal in the Bok team.
Whoever Coetzee decides on for the two home Tests it is another department of the Bok team that needs to get sorted out as quickly as possible.
Down the line the national coach will also be able to consider Jan Serfontein and possibly even Handre Pollard at 12, while current fullback Johan Goosen has also played a lot of rugby for his French club, Racing Metro, at 13 in recent years.
Then there’s the young rookie Lions centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg, but he appears to have lost some confidence since returning from a lengthy break following his endeavours in Super Rugby. Also, he doesn’t seem quite as dangerous with his Lions pals, De Klerk, Jantjies and Mapoe, all missing.
All of the centre mentioned here are quality operators who have shown they can play on the big stage, or have the potential to do so, but getting the right combination together is the tricky part.
Good luck to Coetzee and especially backs coach Mzwandile Stick.