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Neil de Kock: Boks coaches have bigger picture in mind when benching star men

By Neil de Kock
(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Some critics have stated that the Springboks are inconsistent in terms of results – with Jacques Nienaber having lost 40 per cent of his Tests – and selections. I hear many supporters say: “Why are we not picking our strongest team every week to win Tests?”


The Springbok coaching staff understand that there is criticism out there in terms of their selection policy but they have a bigger picture in mind.

I think this weekend’s fixture with the Wallabies is a fantastic opportunity for the likes of Ox Nche and Joseph Dweba to have another go at it and really come out and perform the way they know they can. I take my hat off to the coaches for allowing them the opportunity to do that. It says a lot about the group and the coaches and the way that they back their players.

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The World Cup is just over a year away and there is a plan in place. Selections are made with a view to working towards that. It’s a bitter pill for some people to swallow but, for those in the know, it’s about forging momentum and having enough players to peak at the right time.

In the Bok backline, Warrick Gelant replaces Jesse Kriel, who sustained a head knock against the All Blacks. Gelant has proven himself this season and was outstanding for the Stormers. He is highly creative, plays with ambition and given a sniff, he will go for it. Gelant’s prefered position is fullback but in the modern game, the number on your back isn’t necessarily the position you play on the field. In many ways there is an understanding of other positions that a lot of players have these days that they didn’t have in years gone past.

If you run the rule over the Bok backline, there is plenty of versatility. You could probably shift that same backline around and put players in different positions and it would still work.

The counterargument is that we need specialists in certain positions. If you look at our 9,10,12 and 13 – they are specialists and those selections have been consistent bar Faf de Klerk and Jaden Henrikse rotating. I know we’ve had some changes in the back three but again we are spoiled for choice. The core of our backline has remained pretty consistent which is very important.


Damian Willemse continues at fullback. He is so versatile and was again one of the standouts in the second Test against the All Blacks and has found great form. De Klerk returns to partner Handre Pollard with the Boks reverting to our tried-and-tested 9-10 combination. This is a very solid backline and one that has played many tests together.

In a turn-up for the books, the Wallabies have opted for a six-two bench split in favour of the forwards, while the Boks have reverted to a five-three split. The Boks have gone with a more conservative approach from a backs perspective and it feels like we are rolling back the years because it seems like a long time ago since we have done that. I think it offers a bit of insurance from a bench point of view given that we went through a lot of changes and reshuffling in the last test against the All Blacks which proved to be disruptive.

45-Test veteran Elton Jantjies offers specialist flyhalf cover and Frans Steyn is another player who is so versatile, along with the likes of Willemse and Lukhanyo Am. Steyn, who has faced Australia 11 times, can play anywhere in the backline barring scrumhalf. It’s a gift to have players like that who can slot into any position if necessary.



In terms of the Wallabies, I think they have loaded their bench with forwards in anticipation of the physical onslaught from the Boks. They want to have as many fresh legs as possible to counter what they expect is coming their way from a Bok pack perspective. It’s quite a smart move from Australia to counter the Boks, whose bench has been very effective coming on after 50 minutes and making life very difficult for teams.

In the backline, the Wallabies are really rolling the dice but there are some good, exciting youngsters who have come in, with Noah Lolesio headlining their youth policy.

This is not the most experienced Wallabies backline but it’s a unit full of ambition and flair. We can expect them to play without fear and really chance their arm. Number nine Nic White is an important cog in their wheel and he will look to guide them around the field.

White tends to get under the Boks’ skin but the only way frustration creeps in is if our accuracy is off point. If the Boks aren’t winning the collisions and dominating the gain line, frustration is set to boil over.

For the Springboks, it’s not really about focusing on White and the opposition, it’s about how well we exit, how effectively we run through our phases and put our kicking game together. A good start from the Boks at the Adelaide Oval is really important and it was evidenced in Mbombela when the energy levels were through the roof. For us, it’s about starting really physically, limiting errors, putting the Wallabies on the back foot and getting ourselves into good positions.

Following an 11-year career with Saracens, which saw him earn 264 caps, Neil de Kock now works in the rugby division at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport. De Kock, who featured in 10 Test matches for the Springboks, provides RugbyPass with expert insight and opinion focusing on South Africa.


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