JOHANNESBURG - Will Allister Coetzee go back to the tried and tested in Francois Louw or will he be bold and pick a local man to fill the shoes of Jaco Kriel?
That is the burning question ahead of the Springbok coach naming his squad for the two home Rugby Championship Tests against Australia in Bloemfontein and the All Blacks in Cape Town in the next few weeks.
Kriel who formed such a formidable flank combination with Siya Kolisi, has been ruled out of the rest of the competition, and in fact will be out for the next six months, because of a shoulder injury. The Lions man underwent surgery on Tuesday and is expected back only after Super Rugby has started next season. He missed last Saturday’s 57-0 hammering by the All Blacks in Albany.
Kolisi last weekend was joined by Jean-Luc du Preez and Uzair Cassiem in the Bok back row but after being put on their backsides by the All Blacks, Coetzee will think long and hard about the make-up of his loose-trio for the Free State Stadium and Newlands.
He hinted on Sunday evening on the team’s arrival back in South Africa from New Zealand that veteran Louw would possibly come into the selection mix now that Kriel is out, but he also said he’d first look internally at who could play the type of role Kriel fulfilled.
Here one thinks of a player who is strong as a carrier, has some pace, can hit players back in the tackle and can steal ball on the ground. There are not too many of them going around. Chris Cloete, who was such a menace for the Kings earlier this year and is playing for the Pumas, fits the mould, and he would bring some mongrel to the Bok pack, while Kwagga Smith also has some X-factor about him. England-based Louw though appears to be Coetzee’s go-to man. He’d come in with a wealth of experience and real leadership qualities and would also add some muscle up front.
Of course, Kriel was not the only Bok player to miss the All Blacks Test because of injury or illness. Prop Coenie Oosthuizen was a non-starter after suffering a broken arm, so expect Wilco Louw who flew all the way to Auckland last week to only provide cover, to get a proper look-in against the Wallabies and possibly the All Blacks, too. And, it’ll be hoped that scrumhalf Ross Cronje will be fit and healthy again after sitting out last weekend’s match with stomach flu.
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It will be interesting to see who of the touring group remains in the squad for the home Tests and who gets the boot, if anyone at all, when Coetzee names his squad. He’s certainly not expected to change much from the group that has played regularly up to now - he’s already stated that the 57-0 loss was a one-off - but he may be forced to bring in some reinforcements among the backs, especially after the defensive cracks and the lack of attacking spark and flair last weekend.