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Rugby | Springboks

Uzair Cassiem © Gallo Images

Cassiem to start against Pumas

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee gave the impression at the team announcement press conference that he didn’t have to think too long and hard over his choice of replacement for injured No 8 and captain Warren Whiteley.

As he did in the last test of the three match series against France, Eben Etzebeth will lead the side in Whiteley’s absence, with Uzair Cassiem’s selection to play off the back of the scrum perhaps being a bigger talking point ahead of Saturday’s first match of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship against Argentina at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.

Jean-Luc du Preez moved from blindside flank to No 8 for the Johannesburg clash with the French, when Whiteley was an 11th hour withdrawal, but Coetzee has made it clear he wants to replace like with like.

“It is important to note that during the June internationals we had only one specialist No 8 in the squad in Warren Whiteley,” said Coetzee.

“Now we have Uzair Cassiem and we have Dan du Preez who are experienced in that role. Siya Kolisi played really well on the flank against France and so did Jaco Kriel. Jean-Luc also played exceptionally well, so when it comes to a selection like this week, we go for experience. Jaco did well in leading the Lions in the Super Rugby playoffs.

“I feel that with this loose trio the balance is right. Cassiem has played at No 8 before, and he has wonderful lineout intelligence. He is a great contester. In fact, in most respects he is very similar to Warren, and he plays a similar style to Warren at No 8. Like Warren, he plays well in the wide channels.”

Coetzee also now has the benefit of having two flanks in Kolisi and Kriel who are good at the breakdowns and will help the Boks secure quick ball on attack.

“We do look at the entire pack, including the front five, to commit to the breakdown and ensure we get quick ball, but it is something that Siya and Jaco are good at, and the Pumas are strong at the breakdowns and attack the breakdowns, so it is big bonus to have them,” said Coetzee.

“We also have Jean-Luc and you must remember that these days you look at a squad of 23 rather than just a starting team made up of 15 players. So we have depth at loose-forward and I am happy about that.”

Coetzee is also happy about the depth that is being developed in another key area, flyhalf.

Elton Jantjies continues as the starting No 10 but the question of who would back him up has been an issue.

Curwin Bosch, the young Sharks pivot, will get his first taste of international rugby from the bench at the weekend, while Coetzee didn’t leave much doubt that he is looking forward to the imminent return to full fitness of Handre Pollard.

He is also pleased about the utility value of Bosch, who will cover both flyhalf and fullback on Saturday.

“Curwin is a wonderful young talent and I see it as my responsibility, and the coach’s responsibility, to manage him properly. The good thing about him is that like Frans Steyn, who performed the back-up role in June, he can cover both 10 and 15 and provide excellent place-kicking back-up,” said the coach.

“If we were in a crisis situation, I would probably have selected Handre into the starting squad this week, but we felt we have a good chance to condition him better over the next two weeks.

"When we get back from Salta (where the Boks play the return fixture against Argentina next week) hopefully Handre will be back and ready for selection. It is good to have depth in the squad in the key positions, and we have that now.

"At fullback we also have Warrick Gelant, who has been playing really well, and we have good back-up in most positions. It’s also great to have the versatility that is offered by players such as Curwin.”

In all there are just three changes to the side that beat the French in the last test in June. There is just one at the back, with Ross Cronje returning at scrumhalf for Francois Hougaard.

Cronje missed the Johannesburg match because of injury.

At forward Cassiem replaces Du Preez at No 8 and Coenie Oosthuizen comes in for Ruan Dreyer, who has just joined the squad, as the replacement for the injured Frans Malherbe in the starting tighthead position.

The selection of Trevor Nyakane, who was not involved in the June internationals, on the bench may have raised eyebrows, but Coetzee has a logical explanation for the selection of the versatile Bulls front-ranker.

“Trevor has always been part of our plans, but we are being very strict with our fitness and conditioning criteria, which is why he did not play in June. Trevor has now lost a lot of weight and is fighting fit again, so he is rewarded with a place in the match day squad. It is important to note that when we go to Australasia later in the competition we can only take 28 players.

“That means we will have space for just five props. Trevor plays loosehead and tighthead and is the ‘swinger’ that we will need to be part of the group, a player who can play on both sides of the scrum.”

Coetzee added that Oosthuizen would have an important role to play not in just the ball carrying role he is becoming renowned for, but also in his primary role as a scrummager.

“We all know that Coenie has a crucial part to play outside of his carrying, and we will be expecting him to be a pillar of the scrum alongside Malcolm Marx,” said Coetzee.

The coach also gave the impression there had never been much doubt about continuing with Etzebeth as captain, saying that the second row forward from Cape Town was the right leader for the Boks at this point.

“We have built our philosophy around clarity and simplicity, with everything being very black and white, and Eben is that kind of leader. The execution will come because everything is clear cut and Eben suits the team DNA very well, both on and off the field. Of course he will have to manage the referee well, but he has Beast, Siya, Elton Jantjies and Jaco alongside him as part of the leadership group who will help him.”

Springbok team: Andries Coetzee, Raymond Rhule, Jesse Kriel, Jan Serfontein, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje, Uzair Cassiem, Jaco Kriel, Siya Kolisi, Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth (captain), Coenie Oosthuizen, Malcolm Marx, Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Stephen Kitshoff, Trevor Nyakane, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jean-Luc du Preez, Francois Hougaard, Curwin Bosch, Damian de Allende.


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