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Friday, October 7, 2022

Which Springbok loose forwards should feature in first Test against Australia in Adelaide?

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Cape Town – If past experiences are anything to go by, then the Springboks have to get their loose-trio selection just right if they want to finally beat the Wallabies in Australia.

The world champions left South Africa yesterday for their two-match Rugby Championship trip Down Under, and are determined to produce their first win in the country since 2013.

Wallaby coach Dave Rennie is a cagey coach who will be remembered in SA for guiding the Chiefs to back-to-back Super Rugby titles in 2012 and 2013, and after missing out on the All Black job, he has thrown in his lot across the Tasman Sea.

Rennie will be disappointed by the Australians’ 48-17 capitulation to Michael Cheika’s Argentina in San Juan last weekend, after they triumphed 41-26 in Mendoza a week earlier, despite the departure of captain Michael Hooper a day before kickoff.

They won’t have their talismanic skipper at the Adelaide Oval next Saturday either, nor at the Sydney Football Stadium the following week.

But that doesn’t mean that the Boks will have it easy among the loose forwards, especially considering their lacklustre display in their 35-23 loss to the All Blacks at Ellis Park on Saturday.

On that occasion, coach Jacques Nienaber opted for captain Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen as the loose trio, and there were high hopes for them as it was the first time that they played together since the 2019 Cup final.

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But while Kolisi continued with his busy style of play as a ball-carrier and defender, Du Toit is still feeling his way back from a serious shoulder injury, and is not at the same level that saw him chosen as the Rugby Player of the Year in 2019.

The former Sharks and Stormers star, who now plays for Toyota Verblitz in Japan, is just not punching those holes in the opposition’s defence like he normally does, while his work-rate in general play is below his high standards as well.

Vermeulen was in an even more difficult position last weekend, as he last played about two months ago for Ulster in the United Rugby Championship semi-final against the Stormers, and then had knee surgery.

The veteran No 8 didn’t make much of an impact at Ellis Park and was replaced before halftime.

The Wallabies boast high-energy loose forwards such as powerful No 8 Rob Valetini, new blindsider Jed Holloway – who is a superb lineout option as well at 1.96m – and openside flank Fraser McReight, who did a fine job of filling in for Hooper at the last minute in the first Argentina Test.

The Australians also have strong back-up in Pete Samu, who is a dynamic force with ball-in-hand off the bench.

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So, the Boks can’t afford to play catch-up at the Adelaide Oval. Their loose forwards will need to back-up the tight five by going all out from the opening whistle, so some big calls await Nienaber when he announces his team next Tuesday.

Kolisi is a certain starter, so who should wear the No 7 and No 8 jerseys? Stormers star Evan Roos would have been ideally suited to a game in Australia, with his speed and physicality, but he didn’t make the squad.

So, the hard-running Jasper Wiese should be reinstated at No 8, having shown his willingness to put himself about as a ball-carrier in particular – although he lacks the finesse that Roos possesses.

And the time has come to give Elrigh Louw a proper opportunity as a blindside flank.

That is where he excelled for the Bulls in tandem with Vermeulen a few seasons ago, and his excellent running lines, abrasiveness and lineout-jumping ability will provide the Bok loose trio with some real firepower.

Kwagga Smith and Deon Fourie are the other options in the squad, with Franco Mostert also capable of operating at blindside – although that idea needs to be shelved as he plays his best rugby at lock anyway.

So, for the first Test in Adelaide, Mostert should be the lock reserve, with Smith and Vermeulen the looseforward cover.

@AshfakMohamed

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