PORT ELIZABETH - Springbok coach Allister Coetzee says Uzair Cassiem can be like “Warren Whiteley in the wider channels” for the men in green and gold.
Cassiem, vice-captain Siya Kolisi and Jaco Kriel will form the Boks’ loose trio against Argentina in the Rugby Championship opener in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
After Cheetahs loose forward Oupa Mohoje was released for Currie Cup duty along with four other players on Tuesday, Cassiem’s chances of starting in the Bok back row started to look like more of a reality.
During the Boks’ series whitewash over France in June, Mohoje was an attractive lineout option for the Boks, and in the build-up to the Test this weekend, the Bok coaching staff praised Cassiem for his lineout detail.
Coetzee was no exception, and he too had only words of praise for the one-cap Bok.
But it’s not only Cassiem’s lineout work that has impressed Coetzee - the Springbok coach was also delighted with Cassiem’s craft in the wider channels, similar to that of injured skipper Whiteley.
“He’s a great contester and, similarly to Warren Whiteley, he plays in the wide channels on attack as well. So I’m happy with him there,” Coetzee said.
“Our balance is right - Uzair Cassiem has played at No 8 for the Cheetahs before, and his lineout intelligence is wonderful.”
The other notable inclusion in the back row is Lions man Jaco Kriel.
Kriel - as opposed to Sharks hard man Jean-Luc du Preez - will run on in the No 7 jersey, and Coetzee explained that Kriel’s experience, as well as his leadership abilities, which were given a good trial run with the Lions in Whiteley’s absence, made him a more attractive pick for what is expected to be a tough physical battle against the Pumas.
“Now I know that Jean-Luc has played exceptionally well, but when it comes to selections, like this one this weekend, I will always favour the experience that we need. And Jaco Kriel has, without a doubt, gained a lot of experience in the absence of Warren Whiteley during the (Super Rugby) playoff with the Lions. So that will help Eben Etzebeth in terms of our leadership,” the Bok mentor said.
Coetzee was also pleased with the growing depth in the back-of-the-scrum position.
“It’s important to note that during the June internationals we only had one No 8 in our captain Warren Whiteley, and all of a sudden we have Uzair Cassiem and Dan du Preez. Siya Kolisi played really well in June and so did Jaco Kriel in the last Test for us.”
In the backline, Sharks youngster Curwin Bosch is set to get his first taste of Test rugby if he comes off the bench this weekend.
Bosch, who can play at both flyhalf and fullback, is expected to cover either position, and Coetzee described the rugby prodigy as an “ideal selection”.
“He’s a wonderful young talent, and it’s our responsibility to manage him properly. He’s a terrific goal-kicker and he cover both No 10 and 15. We had that luxury with Frans Steyn. That’s why a player like Curwin is an ideal selection on the bench. ”
With Handre Pollard progressing well, Coetzee was also excited about the Springboks’ depth at flyhalf, and added that versatility among backline players can only do them well going forward.
“In a crisis situation I would have looked at selecting (Handre Pollard), but there’s another two weeks for his conditioning to get even better. When we get back from Salta he’ll hopefully be ready for selection.”
“The versatility of certain players in the backline that’s the way to go.”
In the build-up to the Test, Coetzee was excited by Trevor Nyakane’s ability to pack down at both loosehead and tighthead prop, and the Bok coach lauded him for the amount of work he’s put in to secure his spot in the Bok squad.
Springbok team: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Jaco Kriel, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Bench:16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Damian de Allende.
Argentina team: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano,13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Tomas Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Enrique Pieretto, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro. Bench: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera Paz, 18 Ramiro Herrera, 19 Marcos Kremer, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Juan Martin Hernandez, 23 Matias Moroni.