South African and New Zealand fullbacks have often been as different as chalk and cheese, with the apt examples being Saturday’s potential starters in Andries Coetzee and Damian McKenzie.
If Ben Smith did not opt for a sabbatical in a year when head injuries have blighted his progress, McKenzie could have been on the periphery.
It is not as if Springbok coach Allister Coetzee does not have worthy resources on which to fall back. There is the matter of Warrick Gelant, whose performances in a weak Bulls outfit warranted Bok selection, while the nifty Dillyn Leyds also stated a strong case with his showings at the Stormers.
While there is conjecture in New Zealand as to where McKenzie is utilised best, his counterattacking strengths make him a decent, if not very good fullback by New Zealand standards.
There is still the issue of his needing to adapt to the high-ball demands of international rugby. But, like that of most fullbacks, his attacking intent more than outweighs any frailties — most international fullbacks have similar size issues as his.
The premium is clearly on what is being offered in future while a defensive collective ensures cracks are hidden.
Coetzee does not offer the kind of high-voltage rugby that comes with the McKenzie package but has been crucial to the Bok cause in 2017.
When their Super Rugby statistics are paired, McKenzie has the superior numbers due to the Chiefs’ naturally free-flowing style of rugby.
Being his team’s primary goal-kicker ahead of Aaron Cruden, McKenzie collected 140 points and scored six tries to Coetzee’s three.
McKenzie (205) carried the ball more times than Coetzee (169) and made more line breaks (20-11). But crucially, Coetzee conceded fewer turnovers (17-27) and made more tackle breaks (18-15).
While McKenzie would be an important asset for any team, Coetzee is judicious in terms of when he runs the ball and picks his moments carefully.
Having played at flyhalf at times this season, McKenzie made more tackles (60-36). It is difficult to pinpoint where he missed most of his 13 tackles, while Coetzee missed one less.
Lastly, Coetzee was a Super Rugby finalist for the second year in a row while McKenzie had to watch from the sidelines.
Due to the All Blacks’ better attacking game, McKenzie has made a bigger impact at international level with more carries (32-23), line breaks (4-2) and tackle breaks (5-2). However, McKenzie has conceded more turnovers (5-2), indicating his vulnerability when tackled.
This weakness will be difficult for the Springboks to expose, but if they can, they will have ticked off one box in the many they need to against the All Blacks.
Bok loose-forward Jaco Kriel is out of Saturday’s Test with a shoulder injury sustained against Australia last week. Sharks flank Jean-luc du Preez is a possible starter with his twin Dan coming onto the bench.