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Ken Borland

Focus on the overseas-based players as Springbok selection draws near 0

Posted on May 10, 2017 by Ken


It is a rugby truism that any coach stands or falls by his selections and Allister Coetzee’s mind will be rapidly focusing on who will represent the Springboks in the three Tests next month against France, the bulk of whom will surely be invited to the final training camp from May 20-22.

And when the first Springbok squad of 2017 is selected towards the end of the month the focus will once again be on the overseas-based players. But SA Rugby, who have done their coach precious few favours since negotiations with him began in 2015, have put him on the back foot in this regard with their new ruling that, from July 1, only players with 30 Test caps can be chosen from overseas.

If Coetzee had to just choose the most in-form team from SuperRugby then a backline could run on to Loftus Versfeld on June 10 with less than 50 caps, which a coach, on as shaky ground as he is, is highly unlikely to gamble on. The form Super Rugby backline would probably be Bosch-Mvovo-Mapoe-Odendaal-Skosan-Jantjies-Cronje.

So it seems inevitable that Coetzee will call on overseas-based players, especially amongst the backs.

Jan Serfontein is on his way to France and only has 26 Springbok caps at the moment, so he will not be eligible for the Rugby Championship. Should Coetzee pick him anyway against France knowing that he won’t be part of the plans for the rest of the year?

Willie le Roux has been playing with typical enthusiasm for Wasps and is likely to be in the picture at fullback, but Coetzee will be curbing the development of Curwin Bosch by not selecting him against France and instead letting him play in another World Junior Championship for the SA U20s.

Bosch has been one of the standout players in SuperRugby and has come through the ranks having been tipped as a future Springbok star after his exploits with the SA U20s last year. He will surely be involved in the 2019 World Cup, and could quite possibly be needed during this year’s Rugby Championship, so why not get him involved now? Let him play at fullback where he will have more time to settle at senior international level.

Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen, Morne Steyn and Ruan Pienaar are all still playing well overseas, but the general feeling amongst rugby observers is that it is time we moved on from these superstars, particularly since none of them are likely to be around for the 2019 World Cup. Nevertheless, Coetzee is a desperate coach trying to avoid the axe, so don’t be surprised if he calls on some of these elder statesmen.

While there is probably more depth at forward, veteran hooker Bismarck du Plessis is almost certain to be summoned to play the role of a general in the tight five, and playing the French at the end of their gruelling season with two of the Tests being played on the Highveld should produce open rugby and encourage Coetzee to pick players suited to a free-flowing game plan like Warren Whiteley, Siya Kolisi, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Thomas du Toit, Coenie Oosthuizen, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Sikhumbuzo Notshe.

But the new 30-cap ruling on overseas players will also hurt Coetzee at forward. There is a hint of lawlessness in the way certain agents are shipping their players off overseas these days, so some tightening probably is necessary, but a hard-and-fast arbitrary number like 30 is not in the Springboks’ best interests.

Someone like Saracens tighthead prop Vincent Koch is playing unstoppable rugby at the moment, but he has only nine caps and is ineligible after July 1. If a couple of tightheads get injured during the Rugby Championship, how desperate will Coetzee be to select him? He may be forced to go back to Jannie du Plessis.

Ferocious flank Marcell Coetzee is in a similar position, stranded on 28 caps and currently out of action after another knee injury.

Instead of an inflexible rule, it should be left up to the national coach and Coetzee has already expressed his preference for locally-based players unless there is no viable option in a position, which is how it should be.

Hopefully the boring predictability of SuperRugby these days – those playing SuperBru will know this well – will give way to a thrilling Springbok resurgence next month, but there are numerous selection concerns for Allister Coetzee.

The rapid returns of Pat Lambie, Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh to their best would help, but the lack of in-form options at scrumhalf is also an obvious worry. But let’s hope that the natural flair, tremendous tenacity and game-breaking ability of Faf de Klerk is not ignored. Not blooding Curwin Bosch will be a bad enough waste of talent.




Ludeke comfortable with where Bulls are 0

Posted on July 04, 2015 by Ken

The clock is rapidly ticking down to the start of the SuperRugby season for the Bulls, but coach Frans Ludeke is very comfortable with where his team are placed following two impressive warm-up victories over the Cheetahs and Saracens.

His charges impressed with the intensity and pace of their play in scoring three second-half tries in the 30-13 win over the Cheetahs in Polokwane and then running in six tries in the 39-26 victory over Saracens in London.

“We were able to work on certain areas in those games and they gave us exactly what we wanted to help us get our whole game into gear, plus the results went our way. I was impressed with how we protected our ball at the breakdown and our decision-making both on attack and defence,” Ludeke told The Citizen.

His post-mortem did, however, include an admission that the scrums still require work ahead of their SuperRugby opener against the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld next Saturday.

“The Saracens game was a great test, exactly what we wanted. They were good at the breakdown, scrums and mauls and we took a lot out of that game. I’m not worried about the scrummaging, there’s just a few small adjustments needed and we have the ability to do well there. But it’s going to be a huge contest in that area against the Stormers and the scrums will be a focus point next week,” Ludeke said.

His efforts in that regard are complicated by the absence of prop Marcel van der Merwe for three-to-four weeks due to a medial knee ligament injury, but lock Flip van der Merwe, out for two months with a torn pectoral muscle, is the only other first-choice player currently unavailable.

SuperRugby is going the way of American Football in terms of franchises having huge playing squads and Ludeke is delighted by the depth created by the way several youngsters performed in the two warm-up games.

Hanro Liebenberg looks to be the heir apparent to all the wonderful other loose forwards who have made their names at the Bulls, while fellow youngsters like Jacques du Plessis, Marvin Orie, Jamba Ulengo, Travis Ismaiel and Jesse Kriel all have airs of confidence about themselves too.

“It’s exciting to see that talent and credit to the recruitment team for getting those players to Loftus. The way those players reacted against very proper opposition, with several international players, creates good depth for us,” Ludeke said.

The Stormers, ever the bridesmaids and never the bride when it comes to SuperRugby, will come to Pretoria after a tumultuous build-up that has seen their squad hit by several injuries, the suspension of lock Gerbrandt Grobler for steroid use and the announcement that coach Allister Coetzee will be leaving Cape Town.

But the Bulls are taking nothing for granted.

“Next week is when the actual competition starts and we have to take the same energy and momentum into the game against the Stormers. We have to play with accuracy against them. Our first three games are at home, which is ideal, but it’s crucial that we make a good start,” Ludeke said.




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