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Rugby | Springboks

Allister Coetzee © Gallo Images

Bok changes target lineouts, experience

The change to the back-row configuration and the return of Lood de Jager to the second row are moves that Springbok coach Allister Coetzee feels will sort out the errors and shortcomings that conspired against the team in the 57-0 defeat to the All Blacks in Albany.

Coetzee on Thursday sprung something of a surprise when he named a back-row that effectively had two players outside of their regular positions and brought back De Jager for Franco Mostert for Saturday’s final Castle Lager Rugby Championship clash with New Zealand.

In justifying the selections, he said that the back-row changes would bring balance to the unit while the chances of matching the All Blacks in the lineouts would be improved.

Pieter-Steph du Toit, the Bok man of the match against Australia in Perth as a No 5 lock four weeks ago, has been entrusted with the responsibility of playing blindside flank, a position where he struggled in matches against England at Twickenham in 2016 and Japan at the 2015 World Cup.

With Aaron Smith lining up in the No 9 jersey for the All Blacks, South Africans will have uncomfortable memories of how a lesser player, England’s Danny Care, twice showed up Du Toit around the fringes in quite embarrassing fashion 11 months ago.

However, Coetzee has decided to gamble on Du Toit as a No 7 and Francois Louw at No 8 instead of his regular position on the flank in an effort to make up the gap the All Blacks enjoyed at the QBE Stadium.

“The two most important factors I took into consideration were the need for experience and also the need to fix what went wrong in Albany, such as the lineouts,” said Coetzee.

“I think for this game we have the perfect combination and balance. Pieter-Steph is a great lineout exponent, he carries the ball well, and then we’ve got the two loosies, Kolisi and Flo, who can play for the ball on the ground and carry in the wide channels.

“Pieter-Steph has worked hard on rectifying the mistakes that he made at Twickenham. You have to understand it is hard to adjust to having to tackle nippy scrumhalves around the fringes when that is not what you are used to doing, but he has worked on that and I am confident he will do well this time.”

Du Toit certainly does have the skill-set to be a good No 7.

He is a supreme athlete who is back to his better form after going through a slump earlier in the year, and he also brings the physical attributes that have been boasted on the blindside flank by the more successful Bok teams.

Ironically, the selection effectively promotes the last two winners of the South African Player of the Year Award (De Jager won it in 2015 and Du Toit in 2016) back into the starting team after periods either on the bench or on the sidelines.

“It has been a while that I have been out and that was frustrating but 2016 was not a good year for me with my form and injuries but the team is bigger than the individual and I have just had to wait my opportunity. Now that it has come I must take it,” said De Jager.

De Jager, who made his Bok debut while playing for the Cheetahs but is now at the Bulls, has been impressive in matches against New Zealand in the past.


Perhaps in making the selection, Coetzee remembered how De Jager and Eben Etzebeth tormented the All Blacks in a Rugby Championship test at Emirates Airlines Park in the build-up to the 2015 World Cup.

The Kiwis eventually came back to win narrowly, but De Jager was outstanding and made a massive impression on the game.

He admits he has lost form since then but reckons he is regaining it, and he did look good when he came on as a replacement against the Wallabies in the Perth match, where the Boks came back from a 10 point deficit at one stage to grab the draw.

“I think the plan is just to get the ball,” said Coetzee. “If you look at Lood starting, it is part of ensuring that we have the right lineout options out there. And then we have Franco Mostert providing impact off the bench.

“Lood is an experienced lineout forward, and with Pieter-Steph there too, you can we see we have injected quality into our lineout plan. We have to have improvement at lineout time.”

In Albany the All Blacks were able to poach several Springbok throws at the lineouts, something that skipper Eben Etzebeth doesn’t believe should be blamed just on the throwing ability of hooker Malcolm Marx, who copped a fair amount of criticism after that game.

“I don’t think it is fair to blame one guy, it is a team effort and there are different things that contribute to a poor lineout performance, such as not timing the jump or timing the lift,” said Etzebeth.

Louw’s switch to No 8 from the flank may not be as much of a risk as Du Toit’s selection on the side of the scrum because the coach is right in saying that there isn’t too much difference between No 8 and openside flank, depending of course how you going to approach the positions.

The selection of Steven Kitshoff at loosehead prop due to Beast Mtawarira being absent for a family matter, a decision which Coetzee says was taken on Tuesday, is the other change to the pack.

The Stormers player will be wearing the No 1 jersey for the first time after gathering 17 caps serving an apprenticeship on the replacement’s bench, a South African record.

The decision to move Trevor Nyakane from a tighthead back-up to a loosehead back-up makes sense as many believe that loosehead is Nyakane’s best position.

The Bulls player does contribute outside of the scrums but struggled in his primary phase when he came on in the second half against the All Blacks in Albany.

The big plus though is the first appearance in the match day squad of Wilco Louw.

The Stormers prop is a strong scrummager and the Boks will be pleased to have him backing up should Ruan Dreyer struggle again like he did in Bloemfontein.


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