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Bokke looking for change?

Coetzee has announced his squad to take on the French as part of the incoming tour in June, and most notably announced the new captain, Warren Whiteley, as the leader to take this young side back to the top. He has also announced a very strong SA A side to take on the on the French Barbarians around the same time. I am going to give my opinions on the squads as a whole, eventually coming to a personal starting 23 for each team based on their current form.

Let’s kick things off by discussing Warren Whiteley. He has proven himself to be one of the best and most humble leaders in Super Rugby over the past couple of seasons. No one is questioning his leadership ability, or his ability to join together a group and lead by example. There are, however, a few question marks surrounding his place ahead of Duane Vermeulen as starting eighth man. I personally do not believe that Vermeulen is a better eighth man than Whiteley, however they are two completely different styles of loose forward. I believe that by appointing Whiteley as captain, Coetzee has laid out his statement of intent to focus on a more wide, attacking style of play. This suggests that, unlike last year, Coetzee actually has a gameplan in mind for his Boks. I feel that there is no better option at eighth man than Whiteley if this style of play is going to be explored, as he has pace, power and strong defensive game to help link the forwards and the backs, as he does with the Lions in Super Rugby. Vermeulen, on the other hand, offers little more than power, which has its merits in the old school South African style of play that lied heavily on pods and forward play, however as the game evolves, so must the players.

Focusing on the forward pack more generally, I believe that Tendai Mtawarira is very lucky to be in the squad, as he does not have the best scrummaging technique, his ball skills are often lacking, and he has given away slightly more than his fair share of penalties (not only at scrum time). For exactly the opposite reasons, Ox Nche should feel very hard-done-by as he has proven this season that he has good open field skills, his scrumming matches up with international opposition, and he has the power and determination on both attack and defence that the Beast has been lacking over the past few seasons. Ruan Dreyer’s inclusion pleases me, as it shows that Coetzee has rewarded form. I would suggest that, despite the lack of experience, a front row of Nche, Malcolm Marx and Dreyer would be a dominant line up that could more than match up to that of the French. However, as Nche has been placed in the SA A side, I would say that Kitshoff should start alongside Dreyer and Marx, and Mtawarira should take notes on scrumming from the sidelines.

The lock set up is to be as expected, with Eben Etzebeth and Piter-Steph du Toit occupying the no. 4 and 5 jerseys. De Jager is lucky to be given a chance in the Springbok squad, given his terrible form for the Bulls this season. As such, Franco Mostert, who has the most linnet steals in the entire competition this season, should at the very least be given the bench spot ahead of the former Cheetahs lock.

Jaco Kriel is the obvious choice to wear number 6, as he has out and out pace, power, and has improved his fetching portfolio over the last season. Kriel is touted as being in competition for the jersey with Siya Kolisi, however, I do not believe that Coetzee should have to choose between the two, as Kolisi can fill in at number 7. Kolisi has some power and rucking acumen that Kriel could possibly lack, and Kolisi can provide good cover for the more mobile and linking Lions loose forwards. Alternatively, the option of moving Vermeulen to 7 is one that Coetzee has been open about, and it will be a good solution to the dilemma of Whiteley vs Vermeulen mentioned above. That would mean that Kolisi would cover the loosies from the bench.

The Backline, however is much more difficult to discuss. At scrum half, there are no real standout performers this season, as South African scrum halves have been mediocre at best. Ross Cronje has developed his game to be more balanced between tactical decision making, kicking and sniping runs, however he still needs find his X-factor. Cobus Reinach, who some believe is the country’s best scrum half, is in my opinion too bland and unremarkable. Reinach obviously does not make too many costly errors, however he lacks inspiration on attack, and seldom looks to think creatively and play what is in front of him. Rudy Paige, as I have said in other entries, is benefitting from being one of the few scrum halves of colour in South Africa, and he should not be seen as anything more than worst case scenario injury cover. It is for all these reasons that I believe Francois Hougaard should start at 9 in the opening clash with the French. He has fiery pace, a solid tactical boot, and his decision making on the ball has been good. He will also provide some much needed experience in a very inexperienced backline.

Outside Hougaard, there is only one choice at flyhalf, as Elton Jantjies is the only out and out flyhalf picked in the squad. Some would argue that Francois Steyn should run out at 10, however I will get to Steyn a little later. Jantjies has proven this season in Super Rugby that his boot is no longer an issue, and although he has been found wanting on defence once or twice, he has never backed down from bigger attackers. On attack, he has shown time and time again that he is extremely good on the gainline. He attacks space, has a great skill set, and even crashes the ball up if he has no runners to distribute to.

The real trouble comes in the form of the other backs in the Springbok squad. As the only specialist left wing in the squad, Courtnall Skosan is most likely to run out wearing number 11, while it is a toss-up between Dillyn Leyds and Raymond Rhule on the right wing, as those are the only wings named in the entire Bok squad. Couple this with the incredibly strong possibility of Andries Coetzee making his debut at fullback and you have a back three with exactly zero international test caps across the board. Realistically, Jesse Kriel will run out wearing 15, however, he has been listed as a centre by SARU. I think that Ruan Combrinck, who granted has not had that many test matches himself, should have been included despite his recent return from a long injury. Combrinck would provide some much needed power in the back three, and slightly more experience on the right wing than Leyds and Rhule. That being said, I do agree that a player coming back from injury should be given time to ease back into full competition, and so I liked seeing the Lions use Combrinck in the SuperSport Challenge when he first got back onto the pitch. It is for this reason that I disagree with the inclusion of Damian de Allende in the Bok squad, as he has similarly recently returned from injury and should be given time in the SA A side to prove himself again like Combrinck.

On that mention of the centres, the lack of established centre combination in the Bok squad is glaring. Kriel and De Allende, despite playing together under Heyneke Meyer, do not compliment one another, and I believe that Kriel should be played at fullback. I also think that Francois Steyn is the answer to the Bok prayers at 12, as he can provide calming experience, good power and general ball skills, and has played constantly well for Montpellier as inside centre for the past couple of seasons. Therefore his outside centre is a matter of little consequence, as I believe that he can aid anyone into performing well in that role. That being said, Lukhanyo Am and Jan Serfontein are the only real contenders for the outside centre role, and with the back three looking as green as it does, logic would dictate that Serfontein start at 13 as he has some international experience.

The SA A squad looks like it could be very competitive with the proper structure and gameplan, and under Johan Ackermann, I believe they should pull out a series win over the French Barbarians. With so many capped Springboks in the squad, the SA A side seems like it is Coetzee’s testing side for combinations that he could use at a higher level come 2019.

So here are my picks for the first SA A match day 23:

  1. Ox Nche
  2. Franco Marais
  3. Trevor Nyakane
  4. Andries Ferreira
  5. Jason Jenkins
  6. Chris Cloete
  7. Jean-Luc du Preez
  8. Sikhombuzo Notshe
  9. Dewalt Duvenage
  10. Lionel Cronje
  11. Jamba Ulengo
  12. Harold Vorster
  13. Lionel Mapoe
  14. Ruan Combrinck
  15. Warrick Gelant
  16. Ramone Samuels
  17. Thomas du Toit
  18. Wilco Louw
  19. Ruan Botha
  20. Andise Ntsila
  21. Jano Vermaak
  22. Fred Zeilinga
  23. Makazole Mapimpi

And my Springbok run-on 23:

  1. Steven Kitshoff
  2. Malcolm Marx
  3. Ruan Dreyer
  4. Eben Etzebeth
  5. Franco Mostert
  6. Jaco Kriel
  7. Duane Vermuelen
  8. Warren Whiteley (Captain)
  9. Francois Hougaard
  10. Elton Jantjies
  11. Courtnall Skosan
  12. Francois Steyn
  13. Jan Serfontein
  14. Dillyn Leyds
  15. Jesse Kriel
  16. Bongi Mbonambi
  17. Tendai Mtawarira
  18. Lizo Gqoboka
  19. Pieter-Steph du Toit
  20. Siya Kolisi
  21. Ross Cronje
  22. Andries Coetzee
  23. Lukhanyo Am

If you agree or disagree with anything that I have mentioned above, please feel free to comment or subscribe.

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Lionel Cronje (Left) and Deon Davids (Right) taking questions in the post match press conference after the Kings’ record 44-3 victory over the Rebels. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green, originally seen in Grocott’s Mail

I am back after nearly eight months of zero activity. There are many reasons for my disappearance from this platform, including a disappointment in the Springbok results, and an increased workload at the end of the year. However, I am determined to make use of this platform to express my views on the current state of South African, and even international rugby. Now on to the topic of my first rant back from the grave, Super Rugby…

The Kings vs everyone else:

I have recently written an opinion piece which is expected to be published in Grocott’s Mail later in the week, however I will summarise the essence of that article in these four words. THE KINGS MUST STAY!

The Southern Kings have proven this year that they are becoming more competitive with each passing narrow defeat and with their most recent drubbing of the Melbourne Rebels, they have shown that they can and will be successful given enough time to develop the players they currently have. Coach Deon Davids has done well in selecting a side of mixed talents and experience, coupling the journeyman Lionel Cronje, with young blood in the form of Makazole Mapimpi for example. The Kings have also only recently begun to show that they can win and win big. I refer of course to the record breaking 44-3 victory a week ago.

The Kings also boast one of the most successful teams in terms of transformation in the country, and have had great success in developing the skills of non-white players from domestic club rugby to professional rugby. Players such as Lukhanyo Am and Andisa Ntsila have risen to great heights in Super Rugby, both of which have been deveopled by Davids at the Kings.

However, ultimately the decision to axe the franchises boils down to who NOT to axe, and in my opinion the Bulls and Cheetahs should not fall under that category. Not only do the Kings have more log points than both the Bulls and the Cheetahs, but they also have put together more complete performances, and have proven that they can win away from South African soil.The Bulls have seldom seen like they are in control of any game this season, and the Cheetahs seem to give up any control that they have earned with enough time for their opposition to convert enough points to take the lead.

I believe that South African rugby will do well to axe the two most underperforming sides, as the players that are worth their salt in said unions would seamlessly fit into the other unions and, as a result, increase their depth and make them more competitive.

 

That is all from my first rant back at blogging and I hope to use this platform more often in the future.

South Africa closing on second consecutive Wooden-Spoon

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.

Springboks looking for new ideas

It has recently been announced that the current Springbok captain, Adriaan Strauss, is set to retire from international rugby at the end of the season. The 30-year-old has decided that what has been called one of the worst seasons in Springbok history will be his last in a Green & Gold jersey. This is actually sad…

As I have made my views on Strauss’ inclusion in the match day XV very clear, it may come as a surprise to hear that I am saddened by the news of the blonde Bulls captain’s international retirement. I can only imagine that it is not age but rather form and public pressure that have influenced his decision to retire. The South African rugby public, myself included, have openly criticised Strauss’ current form and leadership ability, and seriously questioned his recent appointment as Springbok captain when he clearly is not the best performing hooker available for South Africa. The problem comes in when you blame Strauss for his appointment. Strauss has done the best that he could do under the circumstances, but the fact of the matter is that he was never the right person to take on such a responsibility with such a young group. Strauss is a good leader, however he is not the best leader in the current squad, and I feel that his attempts to lead this young group of Boks, as well as keep his own personal form up to standard, has resulted in poor performances in both categories.

I believe that coach Allister Coetzee is to blame for the poor leadership shown in this year’s Rugby Championship, and he is also to blame for Strauss’ early retirement from international rugby. I would like to think that Strauss has realised that he is not deserving of the Springbok No. 2 jersey and has realised that the current coach will not drop his captain, therefore he is nobly bowing out of selection eligibility. That is the only reason that I can think of that a 30-year-old would be retiring from international rugby.

On the plus side of this rather disappointing retirement, it opens up an opportunity for Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx to battle for the starting hooker position. I firmly believe that Marx will soon take over the No. 2 despite being behind Mbonambi in the current pecking order. It will also be interesting to see who takes over the captaincy from Strauss. I believe that Warren Whiteley is the only real candidate. Duane Vermeulen, Brian Habana and Francois Louw are not properly eligible as they are all currently overseas based players, which is not desirable in a captain of the Springboks. I also feel that Whiteley is the only one with sufficient leadership abilities in order to lead the Springboks through arguably their worst period in history.

What is difficult is that Whiteley is not necessarily the best No. 8 in the country, or rather, he does not fit the usual old of what is expected from a South African eighth man. The traditional South African eighth man was an enforcer; powerfully built, breakdown securing and very intimidating player. Vermeulen very much fits those requirements, however, he is currently still struggling with injury, and was suffering with form for several months before this injury. Whiteley is a much more athletic, speedy and agile No. 8, which would suit a more attacking, open gameplan. I would rather start Whiteley at No. 8, and consider Vermeulen at No. 7 alongside Kriel/Louw/Notshe at No. 6.

But now on to more pressing matters, the current disarray of the Bok squad, and their apparent mistrust in the current combinations…

It has been reported that the current centre pairings are about to be shuffled, which would mean that Jesse Kriel would most likely gain a starting birth for Saturday’s test clash against a severely suffering Australian side. This will be interesting, as I would prefer to see Kriel at fullback with Goosen moving to inside centre, and De Allende moving to right wing. This would result in Juan de Jongh moving back into the match day 23 on the bench.

I would also like to see Elton Jantjies be given one last chance to prove himself, as he is still trying to come to grips with Coetzee’s ever changing and somewhat confused gameplan. It was obvious last week that Morne Steyn also struggled to find out exactly hat to do on attack, and both flyhalves’ kicking suffered, both out of hand and off the tee. However, Jantjies is still yet to be declared fit for Saturday’s clash, and as such, I will continue as if Jantjies is unavailable. It will then be interesting to see how the other new combination of Faf de Klerk and Morne Steyn will work as they are not equally minded. De Klerk is a very attacking minded scrum half, whereas Steyn is a very territorial flyhalf. These combinations, as well as discovering exactly what gameplan is being adopted by the Springboks, will be of vital importance this weekend when the Springboks under Coetzee will face their biggest challenge yet.

With that being said, I must mention a slightly less important selection mistake currently being made, however it is still important. That mistake is the continued reliance on Francois Louw to don the No. 6 jersey. Jaco Kriel has made a significant impact in every match in which he has been deployed from the bench. It is time for Coetzee to recognise that his best loose froward on current form is Kriel, and he should reward him with a starting role. The Springboks can only benefit from Kriel’s game-breaking ability and superior fitness and speed being utilised from kick-off. It is, however, a good sign that Kriel has been given more game time in the past two weeks, and I hope that translates into a starting role for him in the near future.

The following is the team that I would select for Saturday’s clash (should Jantjies not be declared fit to play.):

  1. Tendai Mtawarira
  2. Adriaan Strauss (Captain)
  3. Vincent Koch
  4. Eben Etzebeth
  5. Pieter-Steph du Toit
  6. Jaco Kriel
  7. Teboho “Oupa” Mahoje
  8. Warren Whiteley
  9. Faf de Klerk
  10. Morne Steyn
  11. Brian Habana
  12. Johan Goosen
  13. Lionel Mapoe
  14. Damian de Allende
  15. Jesse Kriel
  16. Malcolm Marx/Bongi Mbonambi
  17. Steven Kitshoff
  18. Lourens Adriaanse
  19. Franco Mostert
  20. Francois Louw/Sikhombuze Notshe
  21. Francois Hougaard/Rudy Paige
  22. Juan de Jongh
  23. Lwazi Mvovo

Although I feel that this would be our strongest possible team (Not just from the current extended squad):

  1. Steven Kitshoff
  2. Malcolm Marx
  3. Vincent Koch
  4. Eben Etzebeth
  5. Pieter-Steph du Toit
  6. Jaco Kriel
  7. Sikhombuze Notshe
  8. Warren Whiteley (Captain)
  9. Faf de Klerk
  10. Johan Goosen
  11. Brian Habana/Sergeal Pietersen
  12. Rohan Janse van Rensburg
  13. Lionel Mapoe
  14. Travis Ismaiel
  15. Jesse Kriel
  16. Bongi Mbonambi
  17. Tendai Mtawarira
  18. Lourens Adriaanse
  19. Franco Mostert
  20. Teboho Mahoje
  21. Francois Hougaard
  22. Morne Steyn
  23. Damian de Allende

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The Rugby Championship: What just happened?

Ok so I neglected to write previews for the past weekend of the Rugby Championship, purely out of laziness. But basically I would have said New Zealand to win comfortably, and South Africa to win after a hard-fought battle. I was quite wrong.

True to form, New Zealand won with relative ease. Beauden Barrett had yet another outstanding game, and proved to the world that he is the form No. 10 in world rugby at the moment. However the player of the weekend for New Zealand in my opinion was Israel Dagg. The fullback was placed on the right wing this weekend (swapping places with the versatile Ben Smith) and it was as if he’s never played another position in his life. Dagg was always part of the play, constantly looking for work, and rounded off a completely dominant performance with the first two tries of the game. The decision to switch Smith and Dagg around was an inspired one from coach Steve Hansen, and he will be ecstatic with how the move paid off.

The Wallabies were, however, hopeless for the second week in a row, despite a much improved defensive performance. Coach Michael Cheika had some choice words for the referee, Romain Poite, both during and after the match. On several occasions the camera cut to the Australian coaches box and no audio was required to know that what Cheika was shouting was not for sensitive ears. After the match, Cheika basically accused the frenchman of favouring the All Blacks at every turn, rather than simply admitting that it was the Wallabies that put themselves under serious pressure, and failed to capitalise on good attacking ball (although credit must go to the All Blacks for their aggressive defence).

And now on to the shock loss of my beloved Springboks…

In the opening 10 minutes of the match, it appeared that the Springboks had found the fire that they were lacking a week ago in Nelspruit, however the fire turned out to be just a flash in the pan. After some poor kicking from Jantjies and Goosen, and some good play by the Argentinians, Los Pumas went ahead and never really looked like giving up the lead.

In what was expected to be a tightly contested scrum battle, Tendai Mtawarira failed to impress and, on the day that he equalled the legend Os du Randt’s record for most caps by a Springbok prop, was upstaged by Vincent Koch and Steven Kitshoff. Throughout the first half, the scrumming contest was an absolute lottery to see who would earn the penalty, as the first half scrums were a complete mess. It was only when Kitshoff replaced the aged Mtawarira that the scrums looked to stabilise, and he dominated the ill-disciplined Ramiro Herrera for the remainder of the match. Koch showed some decent scrummaging talent of his own, despite being paired with the struggling “Beast”, and was suitably replaced by the impressive Lourens Adriaanse, who played a vital role in the dominance of the South African scrum in the second half. The three younger props also appeared to be a lot more mobile on the field that the 80 cap veteran, which shows that maybe it is time for the Zimbabwean-born former star to consider hanging up his boots.

On to the loose forwards, and we need to rethink a lot about them. Last week I was pleasantly surprised by the efforts of Oupa Mahoje, as he showed that his place was deserved in the starting line up. Mohave ran well with the ball and did well in securing our own possession, however it was on defence that he really stood out, making the most tackles (and fewest missed tackles) on the team (He doubled the tackling stats of his nearest teammate, Warren Whiteley). This week, however, my initial fears of Mahoje starting were realised. The Cheetahs blindside flanker once again started to slip up in his tackles, resulting in several high tackles (one of which he has been cited for) and showed a general lack of discipline on the field, and his tackle count came no where near the dizzying heights of his count from last week. However I would still be content if he retains his starting spot against Australia in two weeks time.

The same, however, cannot be said about the invisible man that is Francois Louw. The man from Bath failed to secure possession on South Africa’s own ball, and was completely absent on defence. A couple of half decent runs does not account for his lack in ability to do his initial job.  The fiery Jaco Kriel came on with half an hour to go, and the tempo of the game drastically increased. Suddenly the Springboks managed to keep possession for several phases, the running improved, the commitment at the breakdown improved, and the South Africans looked once again that they were playing with a certain level of urgency. Ariel seemed to be everywhere on the park; he was at every breakdown, managed four turnovers, and several strong carries. The Lions talisman deserves to start in two weeks time against the Wallabies, as he genuinely looks like he is proud to play for his country, a rare commodity these days.

Speaking of being proud to wear the Green & Gold, the Springboks will sorely miss the likes of Ruan Combrinck for the next six weeks, as he fractured his fibula shortly before halftime. Jesse Kriel came on in his place on the right wing, and had a decent enough match, however the Boks noticeably missed the massive right boot of the speedster, as well as his ability to bust wholes in the defence.

As the Springboks are now in need of a right wing, I would then recommend that Damian de Allende be considered for the role. Despite a much improved centre combination last week, De Allende and Mapoe have still not synced up, and I put it down to a feeling that De Allende does not have the right attitude for an inside centre. Although he has the ability to pass, and has improved his distribution in the past two weeks, it is evident that De Allende would rather run with the ball than offload to his outside backs. The Boks could still make use of the Western Province centre, and I believe that he would feel more comfortable if he made the permanent switch to wing. This move would open the floor to the likes of Rohan Janse van Rensburg to make his much called for inclusion into the Springbok squad.

My last word on the Springboks has to go to the hapless hooker and captain, Adriaan Strauss. The bumbling blonde-haired boulder fails to make his way around the park and cost South Africa possession several times in vital areas, either by knocking the ball on in the tackle or failing to support his runners and clear out the breakdown. I am sure that Strauss is a magician in his spare time as, except for set plays (lineouts and scrums), he managed to pull a disappearing act for all the passages of open play. It is high time that coach Allistair Coetzee realises that his “first choice” hooker is not even the fourth best hooker available for South Africa, and Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx should be given their rightfully deserved opportunities at the No. 2 jersey.

On the whole I feel that the future of South African rugby seems quite dim. I would be happy to lose every match this season if Coetzee showed that he was building a gameplan and a squad of players that could contend the World Cup title in three years. However, looking at the current state of affairs, Coetzee has no idea what he is doing nor what type of gameplan he wants to play, and I fear that New Zealand will be looking forward to putting 60 points against the once proud Springboks.

The Rugby Championship Opening Weekend: Argentina, Australia and New Zealand

As tomorrow marks the opening tests of the 2016 edition of the Rugby Championship, it is only fitting to look over Argentina, Australia and New Zealand ahead of each of their first matches. You can find my views on the Springbok team to play tomorrow here.

Argentina, the relative newcomer to the Southern Hemisphere’s most prestigious annual international rugby competition, are the out and out underdogs ahead of the opening weekend. With the lowest overall international ranking out of the four nations competing in the tournament, Los Pumas will have a tough couple of weeks ahead of them.

Argentina recently disappointed in terms of franchise level rugby, as the recent inclusion of Argentine-based franchise, the Jaguares, into Super Rugby did not reap the rewards that Argentinian fans would have wanted. Despite being made up of nearly the entire Argentina national side, the Jaguares only managed four wins in their first season. The poor form of the international players would worry Daniel Hourcade (Argentina head coach), however in their recent matches against France, Los Pumas improved greatly from their form as the Jaguares.

Saturday’s match will also serve as captain Agustin Creevy’s 50th game in the blue and white hooped jersey. This will no doubt have a great effect on the Argentine attitude going into the match against South Africa, as the team would want to make it one to remember for their leader. Argentina would also be buoyed by their previous match on South African soil, as they managed to pull off a famous 37-25 victory over the Springboks at Kings Park in Durban.

Argentina have famously enjoyed set piece play, especially at scrum time, and their powerful forwards will be looking to dominate once more tomorrow. However, it is in the backline where I feel Los Pumas are at their most dangerous, as they boast pacy wingers, a powerful centre pairing, and the player with the most points in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Nicolas Sanchez. I predict an aerial battle early on, with the match opening up to more running rugby as the first half draws to a close.

Argentina will run out as follows:

  1. Francisco Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
  2. Agustin Creevy (Captain)
  3. Ramiro Herrera
  4. Matías Alemanno
  5. Tomas Levaninni
  6. Pablo Matera
  7. Juan Manuel Leguizamon
  8. Facundo Isa
  9. Martin Landajo
  10. Nicolas Sanchez
  11. Manuel Montera
  12. Juan Martin Hernandez
  13. Matias Orlando
  14. Santiago Cordero
  15. Joaquin Tuculet
  16. Julian Montoya
  17. Felipe Arregui
  18. Enrique Pieretto
  19. Guido Petti
  20. Javier Ortega Desio
  21. Tomas Cubelli
  22. Santiago González Iglesias
  23. Ramiro Moyano

 

Now onto the defending champions, Australia…

The Australian fans will be nervous heading into tomorrow’s clash with New Zealand, as the country as a whole has performed poorly as far as rugby is concerned this season. The Australian Super Rugby franchises suffered at the hands of their New Zealand and South African opponents, with only one Australian team making it through to the playoffs (# South African teams and 4 New Zealand teams made it). This run of poor form translated into a poor series against a visiting England side, which saw the Australians loose a home series for the first time, they lost 3-0 (It was also the first whitewash series defeat for either nation).

Head coach, Michael Cheika, is going with a fairly experienced side, and he can find comfort in the fact that a team similar team managed to make it to the World Cup Final almost a year ago. The only possible debutant in the 23 comes in the form of the promising and powerful young prop Allan Alaalatoa. Cheka has also once again opted for the widely successful two fetchers approach that he used in the World Cup, as he is staring with both Michael Hooper and David Pocock.

It will be interesting to see how the Australians will be able to bounce back from their loss earlier this season when they go up against the Rugby World Cup Champions tomorrow. The team to run out to face that challenge reads as follows:

  1. Scott Sio
  2. Stephen Moore (Captain)
  3. Sekope Kepu
  4. Kane Douglas
  5. Rob Simmons
  6. Ben McCalman
  7. Michael Hooper
  8. David Pocock
  9. Will Genia
  10. Bernard Foley
  11. Dane Haylett-Petty
  12. Matt Giteau
  13. Tevita Kuridrani
  14. Adam Ashley-Cooper
  15. Isreal Folau
  16. Tatafu Poloya-Nau
  17. James Slipper
  18. Allan Alaalatoa
  19. Dean Mumm
  20. Scott Fardy
  21. Nick Phipps
  22. Matt Toomua
  23. Rob Horne

Lastly a look at the current World Champions, New Zealand…

The rugby giants of the world have enjoyed a dominance over all facets of Rugby Union for almost a decade now, and have shown little signs of giving up their place as king of the hill. The New Zealand teams in this year’s Super Rugby competition outclassed almost every one of their opponents from start to finish. New Zealand dominated the playoff rounds of Super Rugby (despite the Lions beating 2 of the last 4 New Zealand teams to make it to the final), and ultimately the Hurricanes from Wellington were deserved champions. As a result of this domination by four out of the five New Zealand teams in Super Rugby, All Black head coach Steve Hansen will be very confident ahead the trans-Tasmin clash tomorrow.

It will also go in Hansen’s favour that during the recent test window, New Zealand whitewashed Wales 3-0 in a home test series. In that series, the All Blacks looked in complete control from beginning to end. New Zealand have also enjoyed dominance over Saturday’s opponents, Australia, with New Zealand winning 12 of the last 13 matches between the two rivals.

Hansen has chosen to reward the exceptional form of Beauden Barrett, arguably the best player in the world right now, with the starting no. 10 jersey. Barrett was outstanding in the playoff rounds of Super Rugby, and culminated his incredible run of form with a man-of-the-match winning performance in the Super Rugby Final.

New Zealand did suffer a set-back in their preparations, however, as Hooker Nathan Harris suffered a knee injury in training this week and will be out of action for the remainder of the season. This means that the young Codie Taylor will start tomorrow in his place, with the still not fully fit Dane Coles coming onto the bench (Coles injured his ribs in the Super Rugby semi-final and is still nursing them). This will have very little effect on the match I would imagine, as New Zealand has incredible depth in each position.

The run out team for the All Blacks tomorrow reads as follows:

  1. Wyatt Crockett
  2. Codie Taylor
  3. Owen Franks
  4. Brodie Retallick
  5. Sam Whitelock
  6. Jerome Kaino
  7. Sam Cane
  8. Kieran Read (Captain)
  9. Aaron Smith
  10. Beauden Barrett
  11. Waisake Naholo
  12. Ryan Crotty
  13. Malakai Fekitoa
  14. Ben Smith
  15. Israel Dagg
  16. Dane Coles
  17. Kane Hames
  18. Charlie Faumuina
  19. Liam Squire
  20. Ardie Savea
  21. TJ Perenara
  22. Aaron Cruden
  23. Julian Savea

Please feel free to comment.

 

PS. I just realised that the only captain in the Rugby Championship this year that is not a hooker is Kieran Read.

The Rugby Championship Opening Weekend: The Springboks

With the opening matches of the 2016 edition of the Rugby Championship only one day away, I feel that there is no better time for me to write my first entry.

The Springboks, under newly appointed head coach Allister Coetzee, have been disappointing in 2016 thus far. South Africa’s recent series against an Irish side which was largely diminished due to injury gave the South African rugby fan real cause for concern, as they barely managed to scrape through with a 2-1 series win. The new coach will be hoping to put the home series behind him, as he faces the tough challenge of Los Pumas tomorrow.

Despite having the historical advantage (with Argentina only managing a lonely one victory over the African giants), Coetzee’s men will have it all to prove as the side chosen for South Africa’s opening clash has caused a great deal of controversy among South African supporters. Many selections for the greater 31-man squad have raised several eyebrows, with several notable omissions from Super Rugby and European Rugby being picked out.

The Springbok side to run out at the Mbombela Stadium reads as follows:

  1. Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira
  2. Adriaan Strauss (Captain)
  3. Julian Redelinghuys
  4. Eben Etzebeth
  5. Lood de Jager
  6. Francois Louw
  7. Teboho “Oupa” Mahoje
  8. Warren Whiteley
  9. Faf de Klerk
  10. Elton Jantjies
  11. Bryan Habana
  12. Damian de Allende
  13. Lionel Mapoe
  14. Ruan Combrinck
  15. Johan Goosen
  16. Bongi Mbonambi
  17. Steven Kitshoff
  18. Vincent Koch
  19. Pieter-Steph du Toit
  20. Jaco Kriel
  21. Rudy Paige
  22. Juan de Jongh
  23. Jesse Kriel

What this side has to its credit is three options for first receivers off of set play, in the form of Elton Jantjies, Johan Goosen and Ruan Combrinck. All three of these players have proven their abilities as playmakers and tactical kickers, however it would be a safe bet that Goosen is relied on to do the majority of the territorial kicking duties. The attacking flair of Jantjies has been magnificent to watch over the past season of Super Rugby, and his interplay with the powerful yet still pacy wing, Combrinck, has resulted in several tries and open field runs throughout the Lions’ almost cinderella-like campaign. Combrinck also boasts a considerable boot to ensure that the Springbok are not bogged down in their 22.

However, my problem with the Springbok backline comes in at number 12. Damian de Allende has been a shadow of his former self for both the Stormers and the Springboks this season. Despite scoring one of the tries of the series against Ireland (powering over Robbie Henshaw and scoring under the posts), De Allende has been largely static on attack and almost phoning in his defensive efforts. De Allende has a shockingly low pass rate for an inside centre, and the passes that he has made this season have been dreadful, often resulting in play going backwards. For the most part, once the ball has reached De Allende this season, it has died with De Allende. Despite a relatively high tackle success rate, De Allende’s tackle count has been disappointingly low this season, and he very seldom has managed to push the attackers back in the tackle. For these reasons, I believe that De Allende should be relegated back to the Stormers and the Western Province to find his form again.

The back up for De Allende in the greater squad, however, is shockingly sparse, with the only possible no. 12 cover being Juan de Jongh and Johan Goosen, both of which are more suited to the no. 13 birth. I was shocked to see that the in-form and incredibly talented youngster Rohan Janse van Rensberg was not called up for national duty. There were rumours around a possible injury after the Super Rugby Final, however these rumours have been quashed by Janse van Rensburg on Twitter. Janse van Rensburg made a remarkable debut season effort, scoring ten tries throughout the season, making massive meters with every carry, and making several powerful tackles which pushed the opposition back. I hope to see this young talent be utilised by Coetzee in the end of year tour, if not sooner, as the Springboks are in desperate need of him.

And now onto my personal favourite, the forwards…

The South African scrum, lineout and breakdown have been the Springboks’ historical strengths, the foundation of South African rugby intimidation and power over the past 20 years. This Springbok forward pack, however, shows an intent to shy away from the old school bulldozing tactics of Heyneke Meyer and his predecessors in favour of a more fast paced, open brand of rugby. This excites me a lot! Despite being a smaller Springbok pack than South African fans are used to, the South African forwards for Saturday’s test are still dominant in all of the traditional aspects of South African rugby.

That being said, I would like to make a few changes to the starting eight, starting with no. 1. Mtawarira has been, for some time now, a strong ball carrier and powerful scrummager. However I feel that the 31-year-old’s age is catching up with him, as his fitness levels are no longer up to standard and his scrummaging has suffered severely. Mtawarira has given away a fair number of penalties at scrum time this season, and quite simply does not have the scrumming technique to match that of Redelinghuys.

Julian Redelinghuys has been the dominant force in every forward pack of which he has been a part this season, and this is due to the fact that he scrums from an incredibly low position, which gives him a major advantage. The powerful front rower also boasts some serious skills, as he is able to offload in the tackle with relative ease, pass at speed and his defensive record is superb.

Redelinghuys’ scrumming technique is similar to that of Steven Kitshoff, and as such I would pair the red haired loosehead prop with the young Lions tighthead in the starting front row. Kitshoff is a mobile prop with decent ball skills and is deserving of his recall into the Bok side.

To complete the front row, I would get rid of the incumbent captain Strauss, as his work rate of late is far too low for international recognition and his scrummaging technique is shoddy (I doubt he could out scrum the current Greys Bloem 3rd team hooker at this point). To Strauss’ credit, though, he does boast a fair pedigree at lineouts with a 90% success rate, however this can also be attributed to the abilities of his jumpers and should not rest solely on his shoulders. As far as captaincy goes, it has been clear to see that although Strauss is a somewhat decent leader, the real leaders on the pitch for the Springboks have been Warren Whiteley and Francois Louw, as both men have lifted the team greatly with their presence, and have led by example throughout the season for their respective franchises (Whiteley as iconic Lions captain, Louw as a senior player for Bath).

In Strauss’ place, I would select the fiery and powerful Malcolm Marx, who has proven himself as South Africa’s best hooker this season. Although Bongi Mbonambi has been a part of the Bok set-up for longer, his general play as well as set pieces do not compare with the talent of Marx. Marx has enjoyed good success at lineout time (high 80%) and is a powerful scrummager alongside Redelinghuys for the Lions. However it is Marx’s work rate in open play that seals his place in my starting XV as he has pace and power and is constantly contesting for the ball at the breakdown. He is effectively an extra loose forward with solid set piece hooker skills.

My final critique would be that of the inclusion of Oupa Mahoje in the 31-man squad as a whole, let alone in the starting XV. Mahoje has suffered with injury throughout the season, and his performances in the matches that he has played have been average at best. Mahoje has shown poor discipline with a high penalty count against him, and he has done little to earn his inclusion in the squad for me. I would prefer to see the likes of Sikhombuzo Notshe be given an opportunity off of the bench with Louw moving over to seven and Kriel starting at six. Notshe has shown his versatility as a backrower, and he is a livewire on both attack and defence.

My match day 23 for the Springboks would read as follows:

  1. Steven Kitshoff
  2. Malcolm Marx
  3. Julian Redelinghuys
  4. Eben Etzebeth
  5. Lood de Jager
  6. Jaco Kriel
  7. Francois Louw
  8. Warren Whiteley (Captain)
  9. Faf de Klerk
  10. Elton Jantjies
  11. Bryan Habana
  12. Rohan Janse van Rensberg
  13. Lionel Mapoe
  14. Ruan Combrinck
  15. Johan Goosen
  16. Bongi Mbonambi
  17. Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira
  18. Vincent Koch
  19. Pieter-Steph du Toit
  20. Sikhombuzo Notshe
  21. Rudy Paige
  22. Juan de Jongh
  23. Jesse Kriel

Please feel free to comment if you agree or disagree.