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Don’t let them get too comfortable

When people bring up the subject of where the All Blacks differ from the Springboks, the name that inevitably springs to mind is that of Julian Savea.

Recognised as a superstar wing in some quarters, and so he should be as he has scored 46 tries across 54 tests and is just three tries short of Doug Howlett’s record in an All Black jersey, Savea has been more out than in the New Zealand national team recently. He is just 27 and showed no real signs of a loss of form when playing for the Hurricanes in the most recent edition of Super Rugby.

Can you imagine the Boks leaving out Savea in the way that All Black coach Steve Hansen has done? Not in a million months of Sundays. If the big rugged wing was available for South Africa, he would probably be the first name written down on the team sheet and would play every week. He is the type of wing the Boks need and the country is so desperately short of.

Hansen’s decision to omit Savea though, doesn’t look so questionable when you look at the depth he has available to him out wide. Nehe Milner-Skudder, Rieko Ioane, Israel Dagg and Waisake Naholo are also all players who’d walk into a Bok team, and there is plenty of bulk – which is what the Boks need at the back more than anything – there too.

I was reluctant to join the chorus of negativity after the Boks’ big defeat to the All Blacks to the same degree as others did. The Boks had been unbeaten up to that point and my line has always been that this is not a year where we should expect them to suddenly miraculously displace the Kiwis on top of the world rugby pile.

The All Blacks are a mountain to climb much later in this marathon for the Boks and for now, at this stage of the race, they should be content with winning more matches in the calendar year than they lose. That would be a big improvement on last season and would be a sign of progress. Allister Coetzee’s men are well on the way to doing that.

It is concerning though, that the encouraging selection of young Subisiso Nkosi aside, the Bok coaches appear so reluctant to tamper with a back three that frankly just hasn’t passed muster this season and always looked a potential weak spot that the All Blacks would exploit.

I know I give some people the zig when I rabbit on about size, particularly in the Cape where the long love affair with smallish wings and fullbacks is now continuing with the drive to see Dillyn Leyds make the starting team for the test against Australia in Bloemfontein. But whether you like it or not size is an issue in those positions and it was one of the reasons why a previous era of Stormers that were coached by Coetzee were so reluctant to play the ball to the wide channels.

Nkosi is not particularly tall, which could be an issue in the aerial battle, but he is a man of physical substance, so his selection is a step in the right direction. What is difficult to understand though is how Ruan Combrinck hasn’t made the squad and also why Kobus van Wyk wasn’t even considered good enough to make the South African A side in June. Both of those players look more like what the Boks need than the players who have played in those positions all year.

Coetzee’s explanation that Combrinck wasn’t selected because he is playing in Japan and therefore may not be properly conditioned for test rugby doesn’t really cut it. Combrinck played for the Lions in the closing stages of Super Rugby and that is when he should have been selected.

There would have been no question marks over his fitness then, and it was only six weeks ago. Does a player lose fitness so quickly in that amount of time that they can’t make it up fairly quickly? Handre Pollard had hardly played for two years yet Coetzee had the confidence in the ability of his conditioning staff to get him up to muster.

There haven’t been many quibbles over Coetzee’s selections this year but the argument that if you can’t play yourself out of a team when it loses 57-0, and you were an obvious part of the problem, then you are never going to play yourself out of the team is a valid one.

Hopefully we’re all wrong and the back three players stand up in Bloemfontein and are part of a rousing win over Australia, but sometimes changes are necessary just in order to shake up squad members and make them realise they can’t slip into a comfort zone. It is something that Coetzee should beware of.

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