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Rugby | Springboks

Duane Vermeulen © Gallo Images

Continuing with Duane at flank would have merit

There were mixed reactions to Duane Vermeulen’s performance at blindside flank for South Africa against England but it appears from reports coming from Paris that he’s likely to stay there for Saturday’s match against France.

Vermeulen has played most of his career at No 8 and certainly that’s the jersey has become accustomed to at Springbok level, but last week at Twickenham he was moved to No 7. That was interpreted in two ways - firstly, coach Rassie Erasmus wanted to accommodate Vermeulen and Warren Whiteley in the same back row and see how it goes, and secondly, Pieter-Steph du Toit had to make the switch to lock due to the unavailability of Franco Mostert.

Mostert returns to the selection mix this week along with several other overseas based players such as Faf de Klerk, Willie le Roux, Francois Louw, Cheslin Kolbe and Vincent Koch, and it will be interesting to see how many of those players are accommodated in the match 23 at Stade de France.

However, while Mostert’s likely return to the No 5 jersey - Lood de Jager is making his way back after a long injury lay-off but looked rusty last week - would normally have presented Du Toit with the opportunity to move back to the flank, the Eben Etzebeth injury has complicated matters. Etzebeth is not out of the tour, but the ankle ailment sustained against England will keep him out of this match. Erasmus does have the option of playing RG Snyman, who was at No 4 for the series against England earlier in the year, as Etzebeth’s direct replacement, but it appears that Du Toit and Mostert have been paired up in training this week.

Du Toit remains the Boks’ most consistent player regardless of whether he plays flank or lock, and a shift within the second row configuration - he is normally a No 5 - could prove an interesting experiment. Certainly Stormers coach Robbie Fleck won’t be surprised with the selection as he has long contended that Du Toit has the attributes to fulfil the role expected of a No 4, or front lock in the old parlance that Erasmus has been known to prefer.

It will be Erasmus’ decision to continue with Vermeulen as a flank though that will attract most comment, as it did last weekend. While there was some negativity towards the switch, I thought it showed potential and Erasmus would be justified in trying it again against the French. He obviously has a gut feel that it might work, and if that is the case, there is merit in continuing for another match with the same back row configuration. When Etzebeth’s back surely Du Toit will revert to the side of the scrum and Vermeulen to his regular position, but having Vermeulen prove himself as a capable blindside will offer an extra option in case of injuries going forward.

The forward musical chairs caused by the Etzebeth injury aside, the Bok side for Paris should be the closest resemblance to what Erasmus would consider his best team that he has selected this year. Provided Sbu Nkosi is over the injury that saw him leave the field in the second half at Twickenham, his size, strength and pace should keep the challenge of the returning Kolbe at bay.

Kolbe was good when he played as a replacement for the Boks in the Wellington win over the All Blacks and then as a started in the following two games when Nkosi was only just coming back from injury. But Nkosi is a good player and has the size and explosiveness the Boks need out wide, with the old adage that a good big one is always a better bet than a good small one having validity in this instance.

Kolbe might find a place on the bench for the French game, but Jesse Kriel’s ability to play both centre and wing, in other words cover wing, and the strong performance turned in by Andre Esterhuizen as a replacement last week, might just prompt something different. The smart money though should be on Kolbe fulfilling the impact sub role he is ideal for, although Erasmus also has the option of Damian Willemse, who was solid as the starting fullback last week but is likely to give way to Willie le Roux’s experience in the starting team.

When it comes to what Erasmus’ best teams or combinations for next year might look like, you need to factor in the players who might not be available at present if you want to take a proper stab at how far Saturday’s team will differ from the first choice World Cup team. For instance Damian de Allende was good last weekend but if Erasmus is going to look at overseas based players then it will be hard to continue to ignore the quality of France based Jan Serfontein, while De Jager should come more into the reckoning once he gets back his old fitness and momentum.

An Etzebeth/De Jager pairing still looks the best long term second row option.

Possible Bok team for Paris: Willie le Roux, Sbu Nkosi, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley, Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi (captain), Franco Mostert, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff.


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