Coenie Oosthuizen has an ideal opportunity to cement a permanent place for himself in the Springbok squad heading towards the 2015 Rugby World Cup as coach Heyneke Meyer looks desperately for a back-up for Jannie du Plessis.
The Bok coach made his intentions quite clear this past week when he selected Oosthuizen as the back-up tighthead.
With scrum laws changing and the impact of the scrums still uncertain, the Boks are not ready to gamble just yet on showing their cards going into this year’s Castle Rugby Championship. And while Oosthuizen has struggled with the switch of sides at the scrum, the Bok management is backing him to succeed.
But it doesn’t explain the overall worry about the tighthead position at national level. With Pat Cilliers only returning now from injury, Frans Malherbe injured and Lourens Adriaanse seemingly invited to the Boks only to be carrying tackling bags makes little sense. Like the five lock position you get the idea Meyer still isn’t convinced he has the right back-up for Du Plessis.
Add to this the mauling Kevin Buys got at the hands of JC Janse van Rensburg, the non-performance by the Bulls scrum and a number of top options overseas, and it is clear that the Bok management still are searching for their man in the scrum.
Oosthuizen may not possess the scrumming prowess just yet, but there is hope that if he works on it, he can turn into a good tighthead.
That remains to be seen, but his other qualities – the exceptional ball-carrying skills where he makes metres, and his ability to steal ball at the breakdown – make him a valuable player off the bench at the moment. Combining that with a solid base at the scrum will be all that the Boks need to confirm him in a long-term role for them.
“I truly believe we are in trouble with tightheads in South Africa,” Meyer explained. “If you look at it, most of the guys are injured and at one stage we had the best tightheads in the world, but now there are a lot of inexperienced guys playing there.
“The scrums are an uncertainty for us. I won’t say it’s tough, you have to play the cards you are dealt, but the situation is that this is the first time in a test series where we play the new rules. This year we are going straight into the new rules and we don’t know what to expect. We feel Coenie is the second tighthead in the squad and we need to give him some game time.”
With two players on standby and new scrum laws to contend with, the Boks believe game time will be good for the tightheads having to deal with the changes. Those will be more beneficial than the odd scrumming session at national level.
“We think both Pat (Cilliers) and Lourens (Adriaanse) are both great on standby and the fifth prop normally wouldn’t get much game time in these matches. I felt it is better for them to get some Currie Cup time, to get used to the new laws and if then there is an injury they can come into the team. At this stage, I felt those are the best five props available.”
Du Plessis is likely to remain unchallenged as the tighthead for some time, and Meyer is banking on his experience up front as the team gels closer together. But with margins likely to be tighter in the Rugby Championship, the hope is that the bench will play a massive impact in any game against the top two sides in the world, and that Oosthuizen will be part of that mix.
“I just believe with the new laws Coenie is an unbelievable impact player. Jannie is a quality, world-class tighthead and he will probably always start. But you always bring the next tighthead in with about 20 minutes to go,” Meyer added.
“Coenie is a brilliant impact player and I think the new laws will suit him. A tighthead is like great wine and only gets better with time. Coenie is only 23/24 and we need someone who is the next tighthead who has time to develop and will be there for a long time.
“If Coenie doesn’t play there in test match rugby, he won’t be right for the next Rugby World Cup. Gurthro (Steenkamp) and Trevor (Nyakane) are great impact players, and we have a lot of looseheads. But we’re under pressure on the tighthead side. I want Coenie to play there and see what he can do.”
And if Oosthuizen fulfils his promise, it will be one more box ticked by the Bok staff in their bigger plan for the World Cup.