Cape Town – If South Africa still had a say in the destiny of the 2014
Castle Rugby Championship title going into the final round on Saturday,
then trying to ready crackerjack No 8 Duane Vermeulen for the Ellis Park
encounter with New Zealand would be a priority this week.
the title is safely in the grasp of the All Blacks following their
(expected, frankly) bonus-point triumph over Argentina in La Plata –
their third seizure of the spoils in as many years of the now
four-nation event.Iron man Vermeulen, who has been in thunderous form during the tournament, left the Newlands pitch in the 62nd minute of the 28-10 win against the Wallabies at Newlands with a rib injury.
Heyneke Meyer revealed afterwards that “it is a concern for us” (ahead
of the Johannesburg clash) so there seems every chance a replacement
will be required in the berth.
While no meeting between the Boks
and All Blacks is ever unimportant, the bottom line, like it or not, is
that we are talking dead rubber on Saturday.
Yes, the Boks may
well “want” victory more, given their five-game streak of losses to
these world-leading foes under Heyneke Meyer’s otherwise impressive
tutelage thus far, but there will still be that vital little bit less
crackle to the contest now: certainly the New Zealanders will not be
broken men if the result goes against them, given the slightly altered
dynamic mentally with the trophy already in their possession.Frankly,
I believe it is more important that the Boks throw everything at
winning next year’s scheduled once-off game against the All Blacks in a
reduced competition – that date will be significantly closer to the
World Cup and such an outcome then would have deeper psychological
meaning.That is not to say that Jean de Villiers’s outfit will
not have a full-blooded crack at breaking their NZ drought more
immediately, in the Big Smoke.But if there is any risk at all of
aggravating the injury to Vermeulen – the Boks have remaining 2014
business on a four-Test European tour, even if certain players may be
strategically rested from it – then it would be wiser to sit him right
out of Saturday’s match.
would probably have been far greater desire to work a medical
mini-miracle on him in the coming days if the Championship itself was
still going to be up for grabs.
As it is, the Boks are well nigh
guaranteed of the runners-up spot, as they have moved five points clear
of the third-placed Wallabies and with a vastly superior “for and
against” status – they are plus 22 to Australia’s minus 41, meaning a
sizeable gap in that department between them of 63 points.
Aussies to nip into second, they will have to thrash Argentina away
with a full house, while hoping the Boks also take a significant,
no-log-points pounding from Richie McCaw and company.
Not having Vermeulen to counter the wiles of Kieran Read at No 8 would obviously be a wrench. But
there is now a ready-made, attractive “Plan B” given Schalk Burger’s
wonderfully fired-up, game-turning showing off the bench at Newlands: he
got 25 minutes in total and all but seven of them were in the No 8
berth.He got fulsomely involved on both attack and defence, and
his cheeky little “back flick” through his legs helped in no small
measure to tee up the final Bok try against a Wallaby side shell-shocked
by the home side’s blitz in the last 10 minutes.It was
confirmation, as if it were even needed, that the now Japan-based Burger
(who will still play for the Stormers in 2015) has increasingly added a
dollop of subtlety to his famed, physically-committedFull repertoire.So
if Vermeulen is a deemed no-go, he shapes as a thoroughly logical
replacement to go head-to-head with Read: his gnarly 72-cap
international experience is just one extra reason for that.That
would allow Marcell Coetzee to continue his impressive industry at No 6
(even if Francois Louw’s breakdown skills were missed to some extent
against Australia) and for Oupa Mohoje to build on his credible maiden
start by staying at blindside flank for an even more searching
examination of his top-tier Test suitability.
had already re-emphasised in a June interview with this writer that he
fancied the adaptable Burger as his back-up No 8, so the time may have
come to put that into practice for a possible “full 80”.As for
Burger himself, he had enthused to Sport24 at a training camp at Hawston
back in the late Cape summer, as the Stormers prepared for Super Rugby
earlier this year, over his loose forward “libero” possibilities for the
“I’m not hell-bent on a particular shirt,” he said then. “These days I’m just grateful to be playing rugby.
“Where I am employed isn’t going to make a massive difference to the way I play anyway.”
some ways Burger would be going full Bok circle in the position if he
does get to wear No 8 on Saturday, as he launched his illustrious Test
career in that very capacity: as a 20-year-old substitute for Joe van
Niekerk against minnows Georgia at Sydney in the 2003 World Cup. He
has previously started once in the position – when Jake White was also
beginning to take an interest in his credentials there, and he gave him a
Montpellier start against the USA at the momentous 2007 World Cup in
France.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing