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Rugby | SA Rugby

Bok selection - an opportunity lost?

If not now then when?

That's the question on the lips of so many Springbok supporters this week when they look at the conservative selections of Allister Coetzee against Italy.

If we can't blood new talent against Italy, when will we blood it?

Compare that with the All Blacks - who this year alone have used 45 players - and thanks to their systems they've kept on winning (bar one or two hiccups).

Is it the luxury of not having the pressure valve whistling all the time that allows Steve Hansen to blood youngsters ahead of a World Cup in two years' time?

And the Boks?

Well, it's win at all costs.

And it's understandable. Given where Allister Coetzee currently sits and the pressure he is under, and the fact the Boks lost in Florence last year to the same Italy, there is a sense that this is win at all costs. A second loss to Italy would be unthinkable. And that is what makes this coaching team select the way they do.

Still, it is difficult to find sympathy in the selections. While it is understandable that the pressure is there on the Bok coaching team, it is certainly debatable whether a bolder selection wouldn't provide alternatives for the Boks they so desperately need.

Coetzee has embarked on a selection process in trying desperately to back the same players and hoping they come through. The problem is that so many of them are limited, and the selections say more about the Bok worry about not losing than their desire to play the game they talk about.

The loss against Ireland wasn't treated with panic, and some of the changes - including the introduction of Francois Venter - worked well in stages. But the same problems in fluidity were there once again against France.

The same lumbered kicking game coupled with the same inability for the back three to beat their opposition in the air should have underlined the need for change. It should have seen the Boks try something new.

Coetzee is struggling to win the public over with his approach since the 57-0 loss in Albany and while Newlands showed intent, Dublin blew that out of the window.

Yet all the while you get the idea that it isn't the overall plan that needs a massive overhaul. Little tweaks and a dollop of confidence and youth may be the perfect elixir for the team at the moment. Certainly it can't get worse than Dublin.

And yet, the likes of Lukhanyo Am, Curwin Bosch and others sit on the sidelines. Warrick Gelant warranted a start against Italy. Instead he is on the bench.

Am could have come in for Jesse Kriel and the Boks would have lost nothing. Instead there is a hope that the side will fire finally, a hope that the same players will finally spark something that they have struggled to do in the latter part of the season.

There never should have been a question about blooding the new talent. Italy have won just one game in 14 since they beat the Boks last year.

They may be a side that can disrupt, but if you want to be one of the top sides in World Rugby, you need to put them away.

That youthful exuberance may just be the thing to do so.

And while the Bok management got it right by backing Bongi Mbonambi and resting Malcolm Marx, that same confidence didn't filter through to the rest of the squad.

Just like the confidence wasn't there to show that Rudy Paige and Trevor Nyakane are more than just bench players?

It is an opportunity lost, and one which could leave the Boks seriously underdone in Japan in 2019.

Because when the pump is down and the Boks get a crucial injury at the World Cup, then those players will need to step up in the cauldron and pressure of a World Cup knockout game.

And then we will regret not giving them a chance in a game like this weekend's test match against Italy.

South Africa may well go on to win the test match well, but it will always remain an opportunity lost.


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