It is becoming apparent that South Africa are on the verge of their worst season in international rugby since their re-entry onto the world stage back in 1994. After losing to a lacklustre and highly unfocused Wallabies side on Saturday, I am seriously concerned with the current direction of the Boks. The men in green looked great in the opening 20 minutes, defending well and showing impetus on attack, however that spark quickly died for no apparent reason. It is obvious that there is a clear lack of leadership in the Springbok setup, and it stems from the top. Coetzee has yet to show that he has any semblance of a gameplan, and (despite a much better game than he’s had all season) Strauss has failed to inspire his chargers through his leadership. That being said, there are several more pressing areas that need attention…
Let’s start with the scrums. It is completely unknown to me why Coetzee had dropped Vincent Koch for the clash in Brisbane, as apart from his injured predecessor (Julian Redelinghuys) Koch had been the best part of the Springbok scrum this season. It is not to say that Adriaanse did poorly on his maiden start, however the scrum would have definitely been more in favour of the visitors if Koch had retained his starting birth. The problem was once again on the loosehead. Tendai “the Beast” Mtawarira proved that he should not hold the test cap record for a South African prop, as his general play was sluggish at best, and his scrummaging let the rest of the team down. To Mtawarira’s credit, the red-haired wonder child, Steven Kitshoff, did absolutely nothing to settle the set piece on his entry into the game. Looking at the current availability, and on the Brisbane test alone, I would not be surprised to see Trevor Nyakane be swapped over to the loosehead and a starting birth alongside Koch, with Adriaanse and Mtawarira on the bench.
Adriaan Strauss finally showed glimmers of his former self on Saturday, however I feel that it is too little too late. Strauss was arguably one of the three half-decent players on the pitch on Saturday (Australians included), however I would still like to see Mbonambi and Marx be given playing time sooner rather than later (especially with Strauss’ retirement coming ever closer). I would not through Mbonambi into the deep end on Saturday against the All Blacks, however I want to see him get a solid 30 minutes of game time before he is expected to start.
The loose trio are coming into their own on the international stage. Francois Louw showed that he still can compete at the breakdown, however his speed and fitness were seriously underwhelming as he faded quickly (around about the time that Australia began to win penalties and fight back… Coincidence???). I do not know what more Jaco Kriel has to do in order to earn a starting birth at no. 6, however with Willem Alberts being called into the side one can only hope that Coetzee sticks with Kriel in his match day 23. The call-up of Alberts puzzles me as well, as it begs the question as to why Sikhombuze Nothse was even included in the 31-man squad? I know that Alberts brings experience and some decent power, but if he was part of the plan to begin with (as injury cover), then why get Notshe’s hopes up?
Warren Whiteley is ever improving in the Springbok no. 8 jersey, as he is beginning to show that he not only a world class leader, but he could be a world class no. 8. Whiteley was everywhere on the field in Brisbane, and his presence at the breakdown and power shown in the scoring of his try proved that he can compete with Vermeulen.
And now on the backline, starting with the halfback pairing. Elton Jantjies and Faf de Klerk look uncomfortable with the application of what I assume is Coetzee’s excuse for a game plan. Both of them have kicked almost twice as much as they were asked to at the Lions, and as such their tactical kicking has been woeful. De Klerk is still fiery on attack and defence, and there should be no questions as to his continued starting role (he’s the best scrum half currently available fro the Boks by some margin). I would, however, not be surprised to see the relic Morne Steyn be given the no. 10 jersey against the All Blacks.
The centre combination this weekend of Juan de Jongh and Jessie Kriel shocked me. I did not expect both centres to be dropped in favour of the untested combination, and it did not surprise me in a good way. Although an improvement from the Mapoe-de Allende combination (as both players have vastly different playing styles and absolutely no chemistry) I would have thought that the Kriel-de Allende combination and a new combination of De Jongh-Mapoe would have been implemented. The Kriel-de Allende combination has proven effective, however I would have expected the other pairing to be favoured, especially with the talk of transformation. Kriel did little to inspire this past weekend, and I still believe that he is a fullback, and should specialise at the back. I believe that, for the upcoming test against the All Blacks, Coetzee should run with a backline as follows: De Klerk, Steyn, Hougaard, De Jongh, Mapoe, Habana, Goosen (with Jantjies and Kriel on the bench).
I will forever be crying out for the inclusion of Rohan Janse van Rensberg, however it looks increasingly likely that the powerful yet pacy inside centre will be called up upon the Springboks’ return to SA.
On a more positive note, the standout team for me this weekend was the Argentina side that played fro the first 50 minutes of the game against New Zealand. Los Pumas were fiery and very strong on attack. Where they lost the match was in the erratic form of their defence. The Argentine defence was strong for some phases and weak for others and that should be their main focus in the coming weeks. Argentina are solidly becoming a stronger force on the international stage, they will soon overtake South Africa in the world rankings.