CAPE TOWN - The all-conquering All Blacks lie in wait, yet Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has decided to gamble and play two of his loose forwards out of position for Saturday's Rugby Championship Test at Newlands (5.05pm kickoff).
At the team announcement on Thursday, Coetzee named Pieter-Steph du Toit at blindside flank and Francois Louw at No 8 along with vice-captain Siya Kolisi at openside flank.
Du Toit has only worn the No 7 jersey on two occasions - in the Springboks’ humiliating defeat to Japan at the 2015 World Cup and against England last year - and it didn’t go particularly well for the lock in either fixture. In fact, Du Toit was cruelly exposed defensively around the fringes in his last encounter at No 7.
But Coetzee is adamant that the Stormers lock has improved defensively since late last year.
Also, Coetzee recently said that Louw would come in as a specialist fetcher, yet he finds himself at No 8 - in a position that could have been covered by Dan du Preez - the only specialist No 8 in the Bok group.
Louw starting at No 7 would have been a more understandable one than the current selection, although Jean-Luc du Preez could have also been an option. Instead, Coetzee has gone with “experienced players” for tomorrow.
“It’s important to go out there and play with your most experienced players and to make sure that you fix what didn’t go right in Albany,” Coetzee said. “I can’t say about Japan (that Du Toit did struggle), but definitely England yes. Maybe he (Du Toit) hasn’t gone well on a defensive front, but he’s grown and since then he’s improved a helluva lot.
“So I don’t think you’ll see a better improved Pieter-Steph at flank. He’s definitely made a conscious effort, but being a tall man he understands and we’ve worked on his body position and the guys around him to make sure he stays within the mini unit.”
Coetzee also said that he has “no reservations” playing Louw at the back of the scrum, although he’s never played there at international level. It’s hard to imagine Louw running the classical angles that a decent No 8 should ... you know, the way Kieran Read did to receive that inside pass from Damian McKenzie to score one of his two tries against Los Pumas.
But the Bok coach believes that Louw is confident playing at No 8, and said that it doesn’t require drastic change for him to move from his preferred openside flank to No 8.
“I don’t have any reservations at all (regarding playing Louw at No 8),” Coetzee explained.
“He’s confident playing at No 8 and it’s not like he hasn’t played there before, he has. The big thing about No 8 and 6 is that it’s very similar positions. As a six, he’s accurate in playing towards the ball and securing the ball. And the bonus is that we still have him contesting on the ground."
Du Toit’s inclusion in the loose trio also is also an attempt to fix the lineout wrongs of Albany, and Lood de Jager will earn his first Test start of the season alongside skipper Eben Etzebeth.
Steven Kitshoff will also start in the No 1 jersey as Tendai Mtwarira is unavailable for family reasons. Tighthead prop Ruan Dreyer has retained his place despite conceding several penalties against Australia in Bloemfontein last week, while Wilco Louw joins Trevor Nyakane on the bench.
“I think for this game, we’ve got the perfect combination and balance. Pieter-Steph is a great lineout player, so he’ll be fulfilling that role. He carries hard, he carries well down the middle of the field, and then we’ve got the two loosies who can play on the ground and in the wide channels. So it’s a good combination,” Coetzee said.
“You have to have (a) loose forward who can jump. Uzair Cassiem has been our jumping loose forward, but he’s out. So we had to look at that, I’m sure there will be a big improvement (at the lineouts).”