Coetzee may have to wield axe with key players
Allister Coetzee has had four tests in charge of the Springboks and the time is approaching when he will have to make some big decisions about key personnel.
The Springboks have only played at home under Coetzee and they are yet to put in a fully convincing 80-minute performance.
Three wins from four is a satisfactory start but it could just as easily have been zero from four.
Character and resilience have been demonstrated‚ but mistakes and poor decision-making have been more evident.
Coetzee’s problem is that the backline is creaking on the back of vital players underperforming.
Flyhalf Elton Jantjies cannot replicate his Super Rugby form at test level, while inside centre Damian de Allende is unable to reproduce his performances from last year.
Flyhalf and inside centre are the two most vital positions in the backline when it comes to decision-making and both players are missing the beat.
De Allende‚ at least‚ has proven he can play high-quality rugby at test level. Jantjies has not produced a single dominant performance at this level‚ although he has produced some wonderful moments.
But one or two linebreaks and clever offloads aside‚ the Lions’ pivot has failed to control a game and dictate terms to the opposition like he does at Super Rugby level.
Any great test side conjures up images of an ascendant flyhalf – Barry John‚ Naas Botha‚ Jonny Wilkinson and Dan Carter spring to mind – and Jantjies is yet to show any glimpses of that control.
It’s still early in his test career and he will be given more time to assimilate‚ for no other reason than that there is nowhere else to turn at the moment.
Pat Lambie (concussion) looks set to miss the rest of the international season and Handre Pollard (knee injury) won’t be available until the end of the year.
Garth April‚ who Coetzee praised in June‚ can’t even make the Sharks Currie Cup team. His Bok call-up in June was probably more of a burden than a blessing.
Morne Steyn is in the mix and could be parachuted in to do a job‚ but that would be seen as a panic decision and a complete admission that the Boks’ supposedly new way of playing has been a failure.
Johan Goosen could also be used and he might well be the way to turn against Australia and New Zealand in September.
Coetzee has given him two games at fullback to find his feet again and it might be a smart move to think of him at No 10.
But away from flyhalf, Coetzee also has some pondering to do.
Openside flank Francois Louw is unquestionably a quality test player‚ but he is lacking form at the moment.
How long does Coetzee persist with him before giving Jaco Kriel a start?
Hooker and captain Adriaan Strauss has been unassuming‚ which is not something he could have been accused of in the past.
While he is not making glaring errors‚ the sheer imposing presence of Malcolm Marx should be given an opportunity. The only way players such as Marx and Kriel will show if they have “it” at test level is to play.
Coetzee is unlikely to make significant changes against Argentina this weekend‚ but if there is not dramatic improvement from key players‚ he will need to wield the axe.