That’s Allister’s 31 … so what’s his 15?
Cape Town – We are roughly 50 percent closer to knowing the type of players Allister Coetzee will pin his premier faith in for the earliest phase of his Springbok coaching adventure.
The really interesting part lies a few days ahead when he has to narrow down his 31 squad names to an all-important, preferred starting XV for the first of three Tests against Ireland at Newlands on June 11.
As reported on Saturday when he named his fuller party, Coetzee has made quite sweeping changes to the RWC 2015 squad choice of his predecessor Heyneke Meyer late last year, with as many as 14 players falling by the wayside – albeit for various reasons and not all of them necessarily precluded from future involvement.
There is a strong “rookie” theme to the new coach’s squad, which only makes it likelier that many of the more seasoned, gnarly names who have survived the cull will feature in the first clash with the Irish, at the very least.
Coetzee will be well aware of the danger of going into battle with too fresh-faced and radically-altered a XV against an Irish outfit who were Six Nations champions for two years running before the 2016 competition.
For example, in a notably lean quota of overseas-based players, you would not imagine Coetzee would have gone to the trouble of summoning loose forwards Duane Vermeulen (Toulon) and Francois Louw (Bath) to the cause if he didn’t wish them to be pretty central to his plans.
He knows both steely, highly proven campaigners well from his Stormers years and it may be safe to assume both will start – assuming they arrive, fit and willing – at Newlands.
I have suggested previously that, although he will probably still be favourite for the open-side flank berth, Louw could be an option for No 7 instead if Coetzee goes for the in-form, tearaway Lions flank Jaco Kriel at six, with Vermeulen the No 8.
But after his welcome, thunderous performance for the Stormers in the ill-tempered derby victory over the Cheetahs on Saturday, Siya Kolisi has far more justifiable grounds than previously to wear No 7, so Louw-Kolisi-Vermeulen seems the smart-money loose trio … perhaps with the dynamic Kriel an attractive impact factor off the bench?
There are certain other positions where experience is probably going to be preferred, including hooker where Bulls captain Adriaan Strauss ought to be a shoe-in, leaving the Stormers pair of Scarra Ntubeni and Bongi Mbonambi slugging it out for the substitute’s slot.
Coetzee bringing Steven Kitshoff, the outstanding young loosehead prop, back from France suggests the Boks shrewdly want to cap him as quickly as possible to avoid the risk of any qualification further down the line for the European country, a la fellow front-ranker Pieter de Villiers (68 caps, 1999-2007) of a few years back.
What price Kitshoff making a maiden green-and-gold appearance off the bench at Newlands, replacing No 1 stalwart Tendai Mtawarira for fresh legs at some point in the second half?
There should be some fairly obvious debut starters, like the massively deserving Lionel Mapoe at outside centre; he only cranked up his hungry quest for the No 13 shirt in the Lions’ high-tempo destruction of the Bulls at Loftus on Saturday, and scrumhalf Faf de Klerk is also going to be hard to ignore for a maiden appearance after a quite sensational game in Pretoria.
It also seems there is a chance of De Klerk being paired with franchise colleague Elton Jantjies, given that Coetzee has reported the flyhalf is recuperating fast from his finger-break and potentially up for first-Test selection.
That might mean Pat Lambie being curbed to covering of the pivot spot – and perhaps inside centre and fullback too -- on the Newlands bench, although he is likely to start running in the first-team “ten” channel during the earliest training lead-up to the Test.
Possible Bok starting line-up for first Test: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Elton Jantjies (or Pat Lambie) 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
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This article first appeared on News24 – see here.