JOHANNESBURG - There may be a few selection headaches awaiting coach Allister Coetzee later this week, but scrumhalf isn’t one of them. Ross Cronje will return to the team at No 9, in one of the easier picks for the coach.
The Lions scrumhalf missed the now infamous All Blacks game 10 days ago because of a stomach ailment, but will return for this weekend’s Rugby Championship outing against the Wallabies here. And it’ll ease some of the pressure on Coetzee who has to make key calls at wing, loose forward, lock and in the front row.
“It’s important that our number nines function well and one of the reasons for Ross’s selection this year was his combination with Elton (Jantjies, the flyhalf) ... it helps a lot. There is synergy between them and they understand each other well. Ross really does the basics well and that’s very important.”
It is one of the reasons why Louis Schreuder has come into the Bok squad at the expense of Francois Hougaard - the only player axed from the squad after the debacle in Albany 10 days ago - and why Coetzee also rates Rudy Paige so highly.
“Things haven’t gone well for Francois, as good a player as he is. Technically, he’s struggled, and that’s maybe because he hasn’t played consistently at nine.
“But Rudy and Louis do the basics well and one’s got to look at that, especially with the way we want to play, with our ball-in-hand approach. If we’re going to get Elton into space and give him time on the ball the 9s must do the basics well, first.
“Louis has come in because he’s shown good form recently. He’s been instrumental in the Sharks performing well and upwards curve they’ve made and at 27 he’s a mature player, but he also has time on his side. Jano Vermaak has been part of our plans and went to Argentina, but we need to consider the long-term, too.”
Like Coetzee, Jantjies will be happy to have Cronje back in the number nine jersey this weekend. It is no coincidence the Boks have performed better when the Lions 9-10 duo have started together this season.
Meanwhile, regular captain Warren Whiteley is on course to return to the Boks set-up for the November trip to Europe.
Whiteley, who injured his hip and groin during the June series against France and subsequently underwent surgery, has missed the Boks’ last five Tests and won’t feature in the two remaining Rugby Championship matches.
“He’s a realistic option for the end-of-year tour though,” said Bok doctor Konrad von Hagen. “He’s continuing with his rehabilitation, he’s in the final stages, but he’s on track. Then all that’s left is for him to get fit.”