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Boks should be more cohesive

2010-10-26 14:34

Rob Houwing

It may yet prove to be an irrational thought, but I have a strangely buoyant feeling about South Africa’s prospects on their Grand Slam quest in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

And this despite the Springboks, of course, having what might best be described as a “chequered” record on their end-of-year tours in recent times, marked by some ropey performances against France and Ireland, in particular, although they will not encounter the French on this occasion.

Nobody needs reminding of their dismal Tri-Nations showing this year, while the last European venture, in 2009, hardly went according to plan either: the Boks only managed a one-from-three win record in the Tests (lone success against modest Italy in Udine) while a rare “dirt-tracker” combo succumbed rather humiliatingly to both Leicester Tigers and Saracens.

Somehow that whole tour seemed a bit of a shambles logistically, with 42 players travelling, some only to the pair of lower-key assignments while others focussed on the Tests, and then there was some emergency overlapping, if you like, because of injuries and selection about-turns.

Some of the players picked, too, were either too wet behind the ears for the different demands of the northern hemisphere in winter or failed to translate the domestic form that had earned them the nod into prowess in green and gold: names like Heinke van der Merwe, Earl Rose, Heini Adams, Davon Raubenheimer, Alistair Hargreaves and Wian du Preez come to mind to varying degrees.

There were also some desperately naïve selections in the key area of the engine room, with the Bok brains trust deciding with an eccentric click of the fingers that Lions specialist loosehead Van der Merwe (now plying his trade with Leinster) might suddenly convert into a successful tighthead in the most imposing, heavy-pitch scrummaging environment of them all.

Someone like Sharks then-stringbean Hargreaves, too, arguably did not yet boast enough solid first-class experience in the second row at the time and it generally showed – although I would suggest he is an altogether more influential, meatier individual in 2010 and may deserve the squad nod much more this time.

But if the extended Bok “training group” for this year’s challenge on the other side of the equator is any yardstick, Saturday evening’s tour party may be crucially more suited to European climes, at least as far as the pack is concerned.

The provisional inclusion of the likes of Willem Alberts, Dean Greyling, Coenie Oosthuizen and Duane Vermeulen suggests that certain lessons have been learnt and that rugged, hefty ball-carriers and yeoman grafters will be the wiser order of the day. (Of course the jury remains out on the set-scrum skills at this stage of front-rankers Greyling and Oosthuizen.)

There are still, of course, other important ducks to get in a row, like determining exactly which players will be employed first-up against Ireland the Saturday after next.

Do you field players from the presumably dispirited losing side after this weekend’s Currie Cup final? Do you field players who took part in this showpiece at all?

More importantly, perhaps, is there enough clout among non-Sharks/WP Boks to be able to finally down Ireland in their own lair?

I believe this is a massive head-scratcher: the Irish, after all, possibly represent the toughest obstacle of the quartet and if the Boks fritter away any Grand Slam prospect at the opening hurdle, it could yet turn into the proverbial long tour for them.

But if South Africa triumph in Dublin then the Slam seems very much “on”.

Keep in mind that the Boks have already turned over Wales in Cardiff once in mid-year, with a slightly cobbled-together team a week after the Super 14 final, Scotland should be beatable while the last Twickenham game against England (2008) saw a crushing 42-6 win for South Africa.

Sure, the Boks will tour minus influential figures like John Smit, Heinrich Brussow, Jaque Fourie and Fourie du Preez, but there still ought to be enough class on paper to end the international season markedly better than it began.

A bit of luck and iron discipline will do the cause no harm, of course, while the broad level of desire to restore Springbok pride after the misery of the Tri-Nations will be a key determinant as well.

Oh yes, and Peter de Villiers refraining from wacky or tetchy comments before the super-vigilant UK press will keep the ship suitably stable too.

I am still not at all wild about someone like Victor Matfield touring (and of course captaining), “refreshed” or not after his little hiatus: the availability of his strengths and nous in the short-term could yet be negated by fatigue in the veteran’s case come the World Cup.

Still, my money’s on at least a “good” Euro tour if South Africa get things right strategically this time …

Rob is Sport24's chief writer

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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Comments
  • CD - 2010-10-26 14:37

    Haha, absolutley no-show, France are gonna tear you a new one.

  • Craig - 2010-10-26 14:54

    I think we could have a good tour - the boys just need to keep their ups and focus on the job at hand. I would rather have seen Victor stay at home and rest. Juan Smith is a great leader and I would give him the job of captaining. Overall I think we have a good squad, there are a few players I would not have selected but I think we have the enough class to clean up. I am quite exited to see the new guys in action and hope they do well. This could be the start of some thing great again and could see us win the WC. Good Luck boys and all South Africans are behind you.

  • The Enlightened One - 2010-10-26 15:10

    I am afraid that the chances of a successful tour are very slim Rob. Unfortunately, a good tour is most definitely going to depend on the game against Ireland. If we lose that, the cracks in Div & co's game plan will start to show. I have no confidence in the Bok management to adapt, not after their inept decision making this year. If they sneak a win OR play to obvious potential... who knows.

  • Staalburgher - 2010-10-26 15:30

    Let us just hope the Euros do not have any tricks up their sleeves with regards to tactics etc because Divvy can't change a restaurant order within a reasonable time frame. If our opponents do as the Boks plan before hand we are fine but if anything changes, or injuries occur, expect to see us floundering around rudderless while Coach BEE phones a friend. That is the single reason the Boks will NOT win the WC.

  • The Other Enlightened One - 2010-10-26 15:54

    Not likely. Injuries aside the Home Nations will mostly be too strong for these Boks, who are caught between the old (and tired) and the new (and inexperienced). Ireland have no fear of the Boks any longer and should beat them again. England are on the way back and Scotland are improved. Both will sense an opportunity after the recent poor form of the Boks. Wales will play with passion and provide entertainment but will lose, as they always do, in style. 3-1 to the Home Nations.

  • Tommygun - 2010-10-27 00:43

    CD! And when do we play France? Outside of CD who has no clue, Craig, The Enlightened One, Staalburgher and the Other Enlightened One have all good points. New Boys Alberts and Vermeulen should be a huge plus on these fields plus their workrate is a lot higher than Spies. We cannot afford to not select the team from the full squad, every player must be up for selection for every game. Have some big names on the bench for Scotland just in case. It was PDV"s selection nightmare that made the Boks a joke in 2009, it looks like he may have learn't his lesson.

  • The Enlightened One - 2010-10-27 10:39

    @ The Other Enlightened One, I hope that your predictions do not come true. No matter the aspirations of this team, I have a sinking feeling that you might just be on the money - although I think we will end with a 2-2 record. Scotland and Wales to will be our only victories. But once again... you never know?

  • Bokfan4eva - 2010-10-27 14:15

    I have been reading a bit of the Irish rugby news and they too have niggles and havent yet got a set team together to play the Boks. Seems they have had some issues with the release of some key players from their provinicial unions. I sense they are very cautious and not overflowing with confidence which is good news for the Boks. They feel Bakkies and Juan Smiths addition will make their game tough... I ahve doubted the Boks alot, but this Irish side is not a well oiled unit right now so I think we will win, albeit by a handful of points. Go Bokke !

  • @ Sport24 Editor - 2010-10-28 09:25

    For a change there is some sensible debate that has filtered through in the comments below, which is on topic, mature, reasonable and not racist. On top of your game yesterday - must have been blocking all the usual nonsense. Carry on like this and we'll get you picked for the Boks!!

  • CJ - 2010-10-28 14:51

    Although it has been accepted as a fact that player fatigue plays a role in preparing for the 2011 World Cup, the work load on the senior Boks recently has to been seen in perspective. Remember that the bulk of the senior Bok group was withdrawn from the last 3 rounds of the Currie Cup. For example, the Bulls Boks first played in the semi final (already two weeks ago) and the game against Ireland is another two week away. This means that they would have only played one game in 7 weeks prior to the Irish game. Even the Sharks/WP Boks would have played two games in 7 weeks by then, although they might be more tired mentally. If the thought is that the senior Boks need more rest, rather let them miss another three games at the start of the new Super 15 season. Surely success in the Bok jersey is more important than the S15?

  • CJ - 2010-10-28 14:52

    Although it has been accepted as a fact that player fatigue plays a role in preparing for the 2011 World Cup, the work load on the senior Boks recently has to been seen in perspective. Remember that the bulk of the senior Bok group was withdrawn from the last 3 rounds of the Currie Cup. For example, the Bulls Boks first played in the semi final (already two weeks ago) and the game against Ireland is another two week away. This means that they would have only played one game in 7 weeks prior to the Irish game. Even the Sharks/WP Boks would have played two games in 7 weeks by then, although they might be more tired mentally. If the thought is that the senior Boks need more rest, rather let them miss another three games at the start of the new Super 15 season. Surely success in the Bok jersey is more important than the S15?

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