Can these changes save Allister's Boks?
There is no denying, South Africa are currently doing a good job of imitating a team in decline.
However, I feel there is no need yet to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I said from the outset, Bok coach Allister Coetzee deserves to be given enough time to settle in the job.
I will explain why I stand by that point of view, despite some outré selections – which I have been vocal about in my nonconcurrence.
Yes, Coetzee – in his first seven matches in charge – do sit at a lowly 42.9 percent success rate – three wins from sevens starts.
But it is no worse that his predecessor Heyneke Meyer, who also only managed 42.9 percent (three wins) from his opening seven Tests – although there were two draws.
Perhaps if you do go back a bit further – to the Pieter de Villiers and Jake White eras – you will find more successful starts. Both had 71.4 percent at the same stage, five wins from seven starts. De Villiers had a win over the All Blacks in New Zealand to his credit and White had an All Black win on S soil.
But back to Allister Coetzee and some of his more off-kilter selections.
He admitted that some players are skating on thin ice, as their form no longer warrants the loyalty he has so far shown.
While there was a rider – that he won't succumb to knee-jerk reactions – there is no doubt Coetzee will have to consider, and make, some changes for the two remaining rounds of the Rugby Championship if he doesn't want the downward spiral to spin out of control.
So here are some suggestion, minor adjustments, I believe could make a big difference.
Move Jessie Kriel to fullback, as I feel that is his best position. It will also allow for Johan Goosen to move to outside centre, where he could replicate the sublime form he showed when playing in the No.13 jersey for Racing 92 in European competitions.
His partner at inside centre could be (read, should be) Lions No.12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg.
There could also be some changes on the wing, given the good form of players outside the Bok squad – Raymond Rhule, Anthony Volmink and Werner Kok. However, the situation on the wing is less of a crisis than the disastrous experiments Coetzee made with the midfield combinations.
The REAL problem in my view is the form – or rather lack of it – in the halfback positions.
Let's start with flyhalf Elton Jantjies. From one of the form flyhalves in Super Rugby – probably second only to Beauden Barrett – he has slumped into a pale shadow of his true form. It happened before, while he was on loan with the Stormers. It has resulted in speculation that Jantjies is struggling with Coetzee's approach to the game.
Francois de Klerk also looks lost at sea, after a breakout season in Super Rugby. He seems so obsessed with improving (or working on) his kicking game, that he has lost the natural instinct and skill (including his service to his flyhalf) that earned him his call-up to the Boks.
Maybe the two require a few visits to renowned 'motivators' like Henning Gericke and Jannie Botha to regain the confidence.
In the meantime, Coetzee may have to look into rushing Patrick Lambie back into the Bok team (a massive risk, given his long concussion-enforced lay-off) or rely on veteran Morné Steyn. Of course, there is also the option of moving Goosen into the No.10 channel.
If the latter change does take place, I would look at bringing Lionel Mapoe back at outside centre.
At scrumhalf, I would move Francois Hougaard from wing to No.9, Although Rudy Paige probably deserves a run.
The loose forwards – clearly an unbalanced unit – could also do with a shake-up. Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel and Pieter-Steph du Toit would be my selection, with Franco Mostert and Eben Etzebeth combining in the second row.
The Boks also need a more dynamic front row.
Retshegofaditswe Nché could provide that 'burst of energy', perhaps off the bench at first, while Steven Kitshoff and Vincent Koch are not the worst front row you can pick.
Given that Adriaan Strauss is retiring and the Rugby Championship is a lost cause, maybe now is the time to give other hookers a run.
Given Malcolm Marx' line-out issues, perhaps Bongi Mbonambi could start, while Marx is given addition training time and cameos off the bench.
I do feel that Coetzee must make some changes and now is a good time to also show that he can move beyond the kick-and-hope game that has put insomniacs to sleep so far this year.
Jan de Koning