JOHANNESBURG - Will the conservatively-minded and continuity-obsessed Allister Coetzee take a gamble or two with his team selection when he names his lineup on Thursday for Saturday’s Test against France in Paris?
That is what South African rugby fans are waiting to find out after the Springboks slumped to yet another record defeat, this time to Ireland in Dublin, last weekend.
And one of the more burning questions that all are waiting to have answered is, will he give his squad’s most dynamic player, Warrick Gelant, a debut, be it at fullback or wing?
The Boks have looked stale on attack all year, with none of the men picked by Coetzee able to regularly break the first line of defence and consistently ask questions of the opposition, and last Saturday in Dublin the Bok backline looked especially devoid of ideas and X-factor.
Gelant has X-factor in spades; he showed it in the Currie Cup competition where he was one of the few standout players and he also showed he has it at Super Rugby level, even though he only played a limited role because of injury.
But he’s shown his class at all levels of the game, be it with the U-20s and for the SA “A” team.
The question though is, with the Boks wings struggling to make an impact, battling with confidence, and being found wanting under the high ball, does Coetzee have the guts to pick rookie Gelant?
Fullback Andries Coetzee has been the best of the back-three this season and, in fact, he’s been as good as anyone in the backline and deserves to continue in his role.
He gives it his everything and finds holes in the defensive lines, even if they’re not major gains, but then surely Gelant can play in place of Courtnall Skosan, who appears to have lost confidence following his outstanding showing at Super Rugby level.
Even Dillyn Leyds looks out-of-sorts, but to be fair he’s had very little opportunity to show his true potential.
The reality is the majority of tries nowadays are scored from turn-over ball and counter-attacking play and no one in South African rugby has been as lethal as Gelant in this regard.
He’s also got vision, seems to understand the concept of space, and uses kicks into no-man’s-land more wisely than many others.
Gelant in the back-three would boost the Bok side; not weaken it, and there are other selections Coetzee could make that would be applauded in most quarters.
Handre Pollard must come in at flyhalf, and why not Rudy Paige or Louis Schreuder at scrumhalf, too? While Elton Jantjies and Ross Cronje have been steady this season, they haven’t really fired and now is as good a time as any to see what another halfback pairing can do.
In the centres, it is expected that Francois Venter will replace Damian de Allende at 12, but it appears Jesse Kriel will stay on the outside, but a gambling Coetzee would even consider Lukhanyo Am at 13 and perhaps shift Kriel to the wing. Again, what’s Coetzee got to lose?
The only expected changes up front will be due to injury, in the back-row where Duane Vermeulen will come in at eight, with Francois Louw shifted to openside and Siya Kolisi to blindside. And, in the front row, Wilco Louw, who replaced the injured Coenie Oosthuizen, early last week, will start, alongside Malcolm Marx and Beast Mtawarira.
Coetzee has been a stickler for continuity this year - the reason, according to him, for the improved performances in 2017. It did nothing for the Boks last week and on closer examination perhaps it is the reason why the Boks actually haven’t made all that much progress this year. Coetzee now needs to cast his net a bit wider, and take a risk or two.