CAPE TOWN - If ever there was a match to experiment in, it would be the one against Italy, so why the Springbok coaching staff’s stubborn refusal to do so?
For their match in Padova, coach Allister Coetzee has made four changes to his match-day squad. That sounds like quite a few, but it’s nothing considering the fact that two of those changes were enforced.
Up front, Pieter-Steph du Toit, who has recovered from the concussion he sustained against Ireland two weeks ago, replaces Siya Kolisi in the back row. The Stormers skipper returned to South Africa earlier this week for the birth of his second child.
The other change up front is in the front row, where Stormers hooker Bongi Mbonambi gets his first Test start in place of the injured Malcolm Marx.
During yesterday’s team announcement, Coetzee said he doesn’t want to take any risks with Marx, who picked up a shoulder injury against France last weekend.
Bulls backline star Warrick Gelant and hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle are the changes on the bench, with Damian de Allende dropping out of the squad.
The rest of the team that scraped through against France remains the same, while Eben Etzebeth returns to the second row and will resume his captaincy after picking up a lower leg injury in Paris.
The Springboks’ fixture in Padova is probably the “easiest” on their end-of-year tour as their December 2 date with Wales, which falls outside the international Test window, can be expected to be another tough task.
The Boks’ shocking record 38-3 defeat to Ireland and their poor display at Stade de France were never expected to go that badly, but they did. So, it's doubtful things can get any worse, unless they lose to the Azzurri again.
What is the point of “rewarding outstanding form” by including deserving players in the Springbok group, only to give them a nice overseas trip and not use them properly, or at all, when it comes to game time and international exposure?
Yes, Gelant could make his debut should he come off the bench this weekend, but that’s if he comes off the bench.
And what about Lukhanyo Am? There is still no sight of the exciting centre on the Springbok team sheet, and if you’ve seen him do his thing with the Sharks, you’d find his continued omission pretty shocking.
Also, if one looks at the man keeping him out, Jesse Kriel, Am’s name missing from the Bok match-day squad yet again becomes quite ridiculous.
And Rudy Paige?
Ross Cronje had one of his better games last week (one of the factors that made it a bit better was the fact that his box kicks were more on target). But it also wouldn’t hurt to give Paige some game time. After all, the Springboks need to properly assess their resources at scrumhalf - a position that continues to be problematic.
This was the game to shake things up. This was the game to take a risk or three. And yet again, the Bok coaching staff have decided to play it safe as if that’s worked out for them.
Springbok team to face Italy: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth (capt), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Dan du Preez, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Warrick Gelant