Backing the Boks
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
Heading into the June Test window, the Stormers are now in pole position to win the South African Super Rugby Conference. The Stormers are an outstanding defensive unit and it’s in that department where you see the true fighting spirit of a side. GALLERY: Key match-ups Springboks v England
I expected the Bulls to edge it at home, but the Stormers really played well. Defensively they were resolute and on attack took the few opportunities they had. Siya Kolisi played particularly well and deserved his man of the match award. It was an outstanding win and a game, which had real Test match intensity.
I feel the Sharks have dug something of a hole for themselves having done so well to get out of one. I really thought they were coming good, but I feel they have blown their opportunity to finish top of the SA Conference.
I think they underestimated their opposition on the weekend, which is never a wise thing to do and they paid the price for that. Hats off to the Lions. Any side that plays at Super Rugby level is potentially a competent side and they were clearly motivated for the game.
While only three Stormers made the 32-man Springbok squad, in fairness to Heyneke Meyer the injured trio of Andries Bekker, Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen would surely have been in the mix. Kolisi in particular was unlucky not to have made the squad, but it’s still a very strong Springbok side.
There are a fair number of Bulls in the squad, but I honestly don’t believe there is provincial bias. I think it’s down to the fact that they are familiar with Heyneke’s strategic approach, and he feels comfortable that those players will be able to implement his game plan. I wouldn’t imagine that the game plan would alter substantially from that of the Bulls.
With having had a short time to prepare, it’s vital that Heyneke selected players that understood his approach and how he operates. The more players that he has who know how he wants things done, the better it is for him. There is no doubt that played a role in selection.
The selection of Keegan Daniel is an interesting one. I think he offers variety with the ability to play all three backrow positions. He is a very skilled, intelligent player as is Ryan Kankowski, but neither are direct confrontational players so for me those were interesting choices.
Many were surprised at Heinrich Brussow’s exclusion. He is an outstanding player, but he probably doesn’t have the same array of all-round skills that Marcell Coetzee has. He is fantastic on the ground, but everyone is concerned with the way the referees are interpreting the breakdown, which has made it difficult for him. I think Coetzee deserves a fair go after an excellent Super Rugby season.
I don’t anticipate the Boks playing with flair; they will look to generate momentum through the forwards and adopt a policy of earning the right to go wide. Morne Steyn is an outstanding kicker and will certainly look for territory. I see them adopting a similar kicking game to that which the Bulls use.
Provided the pack does the business, I think the halfbacks are going to be crucial to the Boks’ game plan. Francois Hougaard and Steyn will play a major role. Hougaard will take a lot of pressure off Steyn not only in terms of the kicking, but also in terms of his ability to snipe, and I think they will look to Steyn to dictate and control the game.
The Boks have an experienced front row, but are green in the lock department. Juandre Kruger will be the man tasked with running the lineouts. While England are missing Tom Croft in their pack, they will hold their own at scrum time and have a pretty decent lineout.
England have come to South Africa to play and will look to move the ball around. That said they will also adopt a sensible approach and won’t take wild uncalculated risks. They are a good side and play a decent style of rugby, which will only continue to improve.
Flyhalf Owen Farrell is certainly a very good player. He is an outstanding goalkicker, is physical and quite happy to take the ball to the line. The visitors also have two physical centres and plenty of pace in the back three.
I expect the Boks to do well on Saturday. I certainly do believe we have the players to beat England, but they are a vastly improved side and not to be underestimated. They enjoyed a very good Six Nations and Stuart Lancaster has engendered a good team spirit.
The English will certainly attack Morne Steyn’s channel. While he doesn’t lack courage, defence isn’t his strongest suit, but I think that channel will be sewn up with Frans Steyn at 12.
As it will be the Bok’s first Test of the season, I expect the clash to be reasonably close. That said, I expect the Springboks to prevail by 10 points.
Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.
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