PRETORIA - If there is one area in the Springbok team that is in dire need of new faces ahead of Saturday’s clash against Wales in Cardiff, it is the sterile backline.
For too long now the Bok backline has been misfiring and has been the weakest cog in the Bok machinery this year.
While coach Allister Coetzee has shown a willingness to reward form, especially from the Lions’ Super Rugby side, the players’ inability to be as effective on the international stage has been cause of concern and has necessitated change.
Change is necessary and almost unavoidable for Coetzee in his team’s final Test of the year and what could also be Coetzee’s final bow, with speculation rife that he will be given his marching orders in two weeks’ time at the conclusion of his review with his employers.
Whatever the outcome of the review, it must not cloud his judgement on the difficult calls to make when selecting his team for Saturday.
While he is not a man easily swayed by the calls from the thousands of Springbok faithful across the globe, the former Stormers coach will have to shed his conservative skin and throw caution to the wind.
As steady as scrumhalf Ross Cronje has been for the better part of the season, the Lions blondie has failed to inspire his backs into action and with a slow winding pass and inaccurate kicking game, the time has come for perennial bench-warmer Rudy Paige to be given a fair crack at number nine. Paige could provide the spark that has been missing and could offer something different and new alongside fellow Bulls halfback partner Handre Pollard.
Sharks scrumhalf Louis Schreuder should also be given an opportunity to make his Test debut off the bench after some inspiring performances for the Kings in Super Rugby this year.
The biggest headache in the Bok backline surely has been the lack of fire power in the midfield, especially with Jan Serfontein declaring himself unavailable for the end-of-year tour to focus on his club commitments in France.
Not even the experience Jesse Kriel has picked up in the past three years could save the woes of the midfield, which were exacerbated by the poor form of Damian de Allende.
The inclusion of Francois Venter in the midfield has inspired hope that there is life after all in the midfield and Coetzee will have to be even bolder by handing Lukhanyo Am his debut.
Am should start at No12 with Venter moving to 13 in a combination that could be the key to unlocking the attacking flair of the backs and bringing in the players out wide.
Am was the standout centre in the country in Super Rugby before an injury to his cheekbone which denied him his international debut after being called up for the June series against France.
Fortunately for Coetzee, Am and Venter played together last year for South Africa A in a two-match series against the England Saxons.
On the wing Courtnal Skosan can easily sit out this game after playing in every Test this year, and even though he has been steady, he has not been as effective as he was for the Lions in Super Rugby.
Raymond Rhule should be given another chance to redeem himself for his defensive frailties earlier in the season as he is lethal with ball in hand and will thrive with the attacking Am and Venter on his inside.
Then there is the obvious selection of Warrick Gelant at fullback. Last week Gelant made his debut but it was on the wing and now Coetzee must do the right thing by playing the Bulls fullback in his preferred position. Incumbent
Andries Coetzee has hardly put a foot wrong and has shown a lot of bravery and willingness to get involved. But he falls short of the natural talent and x-factor Gelant brings that will breathe new life into the Springbok backline.