JOHANNESBURG - The Springboks have made good strides this year, but they’re still lacking spark.
We can quibble about who should be starting - Jaco Kriel or Jean-Luc du Preez at No 7, or Beast Mtawarira or Steven Kitshoff at loosehead prop - but that’s not a major issue; that’s simply a matter of choice.
The reality is the Boks this year are far better off than they were a year ago and the selections of coach Allister Coetzee have also been more spot on than they were last year. He hasn’t made any poor calls, even if Joe Public doesn’t always agree with the men he picks.
And for the most part the players have rewarded him. Who would have thought at the start of the international season that Coenie Oosthuizen would be the first choice tighthead prop, that Franco Mostert would be the first choice line-out caller, that Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel would be the preferred midfield pairing, and that the first choice back three would be Courtnall Skosan, Raymond Rhule and Andries Coetzee.
Allister Coetzee surprised South African rugby fans with some of his picks, eye-brows were raised, but the chosen men have stood up and shown they can mix it at Test level.
And, the impact off the bench has also been massive ... but it could be even better. If there’s one box Coetzee has yet to tick, it’s his choice of backs sitting on the bench.
Up to now, the contributions of Kitshoff, Pieter-Steph du Toit (or Lood de Jager) and Du Preez have been telling, but none of the backs have come on to the field and produced a performance to get excited about ... it’s one of the reasons there has been so little talk about possible changes among the backline from one week to the next. But then, Coetzee hasn’t picked players to influence the game in such a way that they put pressure on the starters.
Neither Francois Hougaard nor Rudy Paige have the skills and ability to up the tempo of the game, to take the team to the “next level”, while the choice of the replacement outside back needs to be looked at far more urgently.
It’s understandable that every team needs a man sitting on the bench who’s comfortable kicking at goal and directing play, like a Handre Pollard or Curwin Bosch - most especially if the starting 10 gets injured early. The role of the other two backs on the bench though is very different - they’re there to speed things up, do something special and unpredictable ... be the game-changer if need be.
It is disappointing that Faf de Klerk was discarded so quickly and has now left South Africa, because he has that ability. He is a player with real X-factor and with some proper guidance at national level could have developed into a seriously dangerous and formidable No 9. Starter Ross Cronje is solid, but what the Boks would give for a man coming off the bench and adding some real zip at scrumhalf.
So, too, in the wider channels. Dillyn Leyds is wasted carrying tackle bags and could be the man to spark the back division late on in a game.
Heck, Warrick Gelant has that swag, too, and so does Rohan Janse van Rensburg, a real powerhouse, with raw pace and X-factor written all over him. Ruan Combrinck also has impact-player credentials and yes, also someone like Sergeal Petersen or Rosko Specman.
The Boks don’t appear to have too many weaknesses but they’re lacking spark, especially from off the bench, from the backs. It’s time Coetzee showed his more adventurous side by picking a few men with X-factor.