DUBLIN – Conservatism and continuity were once again the standout features in Allister Coetzee’s selection for this Saturday’s Test against Ireland in Dublin.
In the lead-up to this weekend’s opening end-of-year Test for the Boks, there was an impression that Handré Pollard would be backed to start at flyhalf.
In addition, many pundits suggested that Steven Kitshoff should retain his starting place at loosehead prop after starring in the Boks’ final Rugby Championship Test against the All Blacks, while powerful front-rower Wilco Louw was touted as a possible starter in the No 3 jersey.
Ultimately, Coetzee erred on the side of caution and consistency – as he has done for much his tenure – and enforced just three changes to the starting lineup from the Boks’ last Test.
This saw Beast Mtawarira and Coenie Oosthuizen return to the front row despite missing out on the clash against the All Blacks at Newlands, while as expected, Damian de Allende came in at inside-centre for the unavailable Jan Serfontein.
Notably, Coetzee also stuck with Elton Jantjies at flyhalf despite highlighting the fact earlier in the week that the Lions star had missed out on some of the Boks’ tour preparations after he spent time with his Japanese club.
Yet, Coetzee resisted any temptation to make the bold call of backing Pollard to start his first Test since 2015.
“Elton has slotted in really well since returning,” Coetzee commented. “The preparation has gone smoothly and continuity is really important for us.
“Handré has trained excellently throughout the Rugby Championship. He hasn’t had a lot of time. We wanted him to get 20 minutes against New Zealand (in Cape Town), and then he took a knock to the head and couldn’t finish the game.
“He is ready to play and he must wait for his opportunity. The competition in the group is healthy and that is a bonus.”
It appears that both Kitshoff and Louw will also have to wait for another opportunity to start, with Coetzee opting to stick with the incumbents that previously held down starting berths.
Kitshoff can perhaps regard himself as the unluckiest of the lot as the 25-year-old was undoubtedly one of the Boks’ most heroic performers during the narrow defeat to New Zealand, while he has age on his side just two years away from the next World Cup.
The return of Mtawarira and Oosthuizen to the starting lineup also comes in relative contradiction to the decision to opt against starting with Uzair Cassiem at No 8.
Cassiem started the Boks’ first five Tests of the Rugby Championship before injury struck, but has now been picked on the bench for Saturday’s Test, with Francois Louw instead retained in the unfamiliar eighthman berth.
It also sees Pieter-Steph du Toit backed again to start in his less preferred position at blindside flank, but Coetzee insisted that the back-row has the desired balance.
“That combo gives you everything you need,’ the Bok coach said. ‘We have a lineout and explosive ball-carrying option in Pieter-Steph du Toit. Siya Kolisi has been in outstanding form the whole season. He’s a ball-carrier who can also contest on the ground.
“Francois is playing No 8, but No 8 and openside are very similar in terms of playing towards the ball. It’s especially important in terms of securing our ball. An added bonus is his skill set on the ground: pilfering and stealing.”
The Boks’ Test against Ireland will kick-off at 7.30pm (SA time).