JOHANNESBURG - How bold - or conservative - will Allister Coetzee be when he picks his squad for next month’s tour of Europe?
The Springbok boss will name that squad on Sunday - following Saturday’s Currie Cup final, just in case there are some serious injuries incurred in that game which would rule players out - and, again, there is much debate going on about who’ll be selected and who’ll stay at home.
It is, of course, a tour that could make or break Coetzee, who it seems is always under pressure to deliver and cannot shake the doubts around his coaching ability.
While he has only lost twice this season - to the All Blacks on both occasions - he has drawn twice with Australia, and beaten Argentina (twice) and France (three times).
But that 57-0 hiding in Albany lingers and so does the horror show of the 2016 season.
How can we forget what happened almost a year ago in Europe - a draw against the Barbarians and losses to England, Italy and Wales.
It is one of the reasons why SA Rugby wanted to get Rassie Erasmus back from his position as director of rugby at Munster in Ireland, which they’ve succeeded to do, so with the former Bok captain and so-called coaching guru returning to the Cape and the employ of SA Rugby there is even more pressure on Coetzee’s team to perform next month.
Struggle again, like the Boks did a year ago, and it would come as no surprise if Coetzee was replaced as coach, just two years out from the 2019 World Cup.
Win though and correct the wrongs of a year ago and build on the improved showing against the All Blacks at Newlands, and SA Rugby would find it increasingly difficult to send Coetzee packing.
The reality is the Boks need a big tour, and that means Coetzee getting his selections right first. And the way things are structured in and around South African rugby that isn’t as easy as it seems.
We’re just a few weeks on from that Newlands Test and some of the team’s key men are now playing in Japan and will only be available on the Monday before the first Test against Ireland. The men playing in Europe, too (however many are picked), can’t join the squad until that Monday, leaving Coetzee and his coaching team with little time to get the team gelling again.
Added to this, does he include the likes of Francois Louw, JP Pietersen, perhaps Pat Lambie, or Ruan Pienaar or Francois Steyn in his squad - men who’re at the start of their seasons and are fresh and fit and experienced, but not available for the fourth Test on tour, against Wales, because the match falls outside the international Test window?
Who here at home will get a look-in, but were overlooked so far this year? Warrick Gelant surely has to tour and play, Lukhanyo Am and Rohan Janse van Rensburg have X-factor qualities that can boost the Boks’ attack, but are they strong enough defensively and really better than Jesse Kriel?
Will Handre Pollard be the surprise flyhalf for the first Test - as he’s currently training with the contracted Bok players and Elton Jantjies only joins the squad in the week before the first Test? And who’ll be his No 9 - Louis Schreuder or Rudy Paige, or still Ross Cronje? Will all three Du Preez brothers - Robert, Jean-Luc and Daniel - go on tour?
All eyes are again on Coetzee. The Boks have certainly made progress over the past year, but it will count for nothing if they don’t do well in Europe, too. Who’ll Coetzee put his faith in?