Wilco Louw should be starting at tighthead prop for the Boks on Saturday.
It’s highly unlikely that he will, so the Boks miss out. This, in my humble opinion, is due to misuse of the bench and poor player management.
Tighthead prop is a position that should have been thought through very carefully following Coenie Oosthuizen’s injury, which came after the long-term neck injuries suffered by Julian Redelinghuys and Frans Malherbe. There is a reason Jannie du Plessis and Lourens Adriaanse are paid the salaries they deserve overseas for doing little more than scrum!
Already understocked at the position, coach Allister Coetzee’s first error was to pick a second retreaded loosehead in Trevor Nyakane as his reserve tighthead. A poor call made worse given that Coetzee clearly does not trust him to start – he was leapfrogged by Ruan Dreyer when Oosthuizen got injured.
Dreyer was then found wanting against the All Blacks in the Albany hammering (the reasons for which are for another column, but it was pretty clear that it was not going to be a quick fix), but instead of making a change against the Aussies last week, he gave both Dreyer and Nyakane another shot.
This while Louw – one of the form Super Rugby tightheads – was making merry on the WP bench at Loftus.
Surely giving Louw 30 minutes off the bench was the way to go in Bloemfontein against an Australian pack renowned for having to come up with tricks in order to combat their lack of scrumming prowess? And perhaps it was also an opportunity to give Nyakane a start? How else does one learn about the player’s capabilities at this level?
Instead, the Boks now head into the prime home Test against the All Blacks very precariously positioned at tighthead.
If Coetzee drops Dreyer, can he really leapfrog Nyakane again with Louw? My word that would be poor form!
And if he starts Nyakane with Louw on the bench, how does he explain waiting until this Test, against the world champions, to do so? Rock and a hard place …
While I wish this column was only about tighthead props and scrumming, I use the above example to raise a concern about Coetzee’s use of the bench, and his ability to grow squad depth.
After vociferously defending Handre Pollard’s readiness to play international rugby, Coetzee has given the Bulls pivot all of 23 minutes of game time! None of which were on Saturday in a game crying out for some straight running off a flyhalf taking the ball flat.
Chiliboy Ralepelle also suffered an egg against the Aussies, this after replacing Bongi Mbonambi on the bench, who prior to Saturday, had enjoyed just 34 minutes of rugby in four Tests. Centre Damian de Allende has played just 35 minutes of rugby in this year’s tournament.
“How much do you bench, Rudy?” asks Arnold Schwarzenegger on a Twitter meme … “80 minutes” comes the reply from the ever-smiling Paige. It’s not far off – Paige got five minutes on Saturday for 49 in total while Ross Cronje and Francois Hougaard rotated ahead of him.
That’s 141 minutes of game time across four positions in five Tests, which is seven minutes per position, per game.
This at a time when most coaches are trusting the bench to inject some much-needed Vooma in the last 20 minutes of a Test, and grow squad depth by giving exciting, young players some invaluable Test experience via the less-pressurised later entry to the game.
I know Coetzee has many, many fish to fry, and I really do applaud his desire to get the Boks playing a more ball-in-hand brand of rugby (good on you, Oom Rugby, for raising this), but my oath, this aspect of his resource management currently leaves a lot to be desired.