JOHANNESBURG – Rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen looks at the possible make-up of the forwards for the Springbok end-of-year tour.
It’s the one department where the Boks have simply not been able to settle this year. The only constant has been Siya Kolisi, and how well he has played.
And again, there are questions around the back-row. Frans Louw played at eight last time out, against the All Blacks, but that is unlikely to happen again - he was anonymous at Newlands.
The good news is Uzair Cassiem is fit again and should slot in at the back of the scrum, while Dan du Preez, a genuine specialist, is also an option. Louw and Kolisi should return to the flanks, but after the success of playing Pieter-Steph du Toit at seven at Newlands, he could again be in the starting team. Outsiders for a call-up include Nizaam Carr, Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Oupa Mohoje.
Playing Pieter-Steph du Toit at flank eases the dilemma of who to pick in the second row, and if we go just on the Boks’ last outing, Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager have the inside lane for the locking positions.
This is mainly due to the fact they’re bigger and heavier than Franco Mostert and may suit Europe better. However, Mostert never tires and he brings mobility and a high work rate to the team.
The good thing is the Boks are well stocked at lock and all four current squad members are class players, with their own unique skills sets. The Sharks’ Ruan Botha may be a surprise selection, especially if the Bok camp are worried about the ankle injury suffered by Etzebeth last week.
Oh, what Coetzee and his coaching staff would do for a fit and firing tighthead prop!
The injuries suffered by Julian Redelinghuys and Frans Malherbe have hit the Boks hard, but thankfully Coenie Oosthuizen appears to be ready to play on tour, and how crucial hasn’t he become, finally impressing as a No 3.
Ruan Dreyer, who has deputised at tighthead has, quite inexplicably when you consider how well he’s done for the Lions in Super Rugby, bombed at Test level.
His place in the squad is in serious doubt and may be taken by an experienced operator like Ross Geldenhuys of the Sharks, who’s been around the block a few times.
Of course, Wilco Louw will be the favourite to pack down at tighthead in the first Test. Tendai Mtawarira and Steven Kitshoff will get their turns at loosehead, with Trevor Nyakane again likely to be their back-up.
Well, is there anyone better than Malcolm Marx to wear the No 2 on his back in Europe next month?
The Lions man has proved himself a cut above the rest and will be a key figure on tour. He was outstanding last time out, but will face a different challenge in the four Tests, which will be played on heavier fields than he is used to.
Bongi Mbonambi and Chiliboy Ralepelle will play back-up again and one can only hope they get decent game time somewhere on tour.
The only other hooker pushing for a look-in is Franco Marais, but there’s no reason to pick him if all he’s going to do is carry tackle bags for four weeks.