CAPE TOWN - There are a number of tricky decisions Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has to make before his team kick off their Rugby Championship campaign against Argentina in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
One of those dilemmas is the loose trio. With regular skipper and No 8 Warren Whiteley injured, Coetzee has one specialist No 8 in the Sharks’ physical Dan du Preez, while Cheetahs loose forward Uzair Cassiem, although he can pack down at the back of the scrum, is primarily a flanker.
Cassiem, who made his Springbok debut against Wales last year after producing fine outings for the Free State team, hasn’t reached the same top-performing heights this season. There has been speculation Coetzee will start with Cassiem at No 8 so it will be interesting to see who he eventually goes for.
The twin brother of Dan du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, featured at No 8 along with Siya Kolisi and Jaco Kriel in the loose trio for the Test in Johannesburg in June, but it’s probably unlikely that Coetzee will consider him there given the other two options.
Kolisi, who was last week named as the Bok vice-captain, at this point seems like the only certain inclusion in the loose forwards, and although he was undergoing rehabilitation for the ankle injury he sustained during the Stormers’ Super Rugby quarter-final loss to the Chiefs, he has recovered well and took part in training in the Friendly City last week.
The Stormers skipper has been in scintillating condition this season, not only with his franchise, but also for the Boks during their series whitewash over France in June, where he was in fine form throughout and was particularly exceptional in the second Test.
Then there are Lions loosie Jaco Kriel, Jean-Luc du Preez, and Oupa Mohoje.
In the Test in Durban, Mohoje started at No 7, while Jean-Luc du Preez, who is a natural No 7, replaced Mohoje on the flank, so this time around the big question is whether Coetzee will use Du Preez in that position - where he has been outstanding this season, or if Mohoje will get the starting nod again.
At fullback, the Lions’ Andries Coetzee, Bulls playmaker Warrick Gelant and Sharks star Curwin Bosch offer decent options, while Jesse Kriel can also play in the last line of defence.
However, when the squad was announced, Bosch was marked as flyhalf, although he has been more than just reliable at the back for the Sharks this season.
Coetzee impressed in the Bok No 15 jersey during the series win against the French with his reliable boot and decision-making, while he also added a few fine attacking touches.
Gelant has also been good for the Bulls during Super Rugby, but sticking with Coetzee in the starting line-up seems like the most attractive option.
Another position that can be seen as a talking point is the lock pairing, and who will partner with captain Eben Etzebeth.
Franco Mostert has been sensational for the Lions in Super Rugby this season, while Pieter-Steph du Toit struggled quite a bit in some of his Bok outings. Another option is the Bulls Lood de Jager.
In the front row, it is unclear when Tendai Mtawarira will return as the neck injury he sustained is being monitored by the Springbok staff.
Stormers prop Frans Malherbe, who featured in the series whitewash, has an opportunity to get into the starting line-up, while Coenie Oosthuizen and Trevor Nyakane, who Coetzee seems quite excited about as a “swinger”, are also promising prospects.