Cape Town – Quickly freshening up the significant Sharks
contingent in his Springbok squad is going to be a key, fairly formidable task
for coach Heyneke Meyer ahead of the home-and-away Castle Rugby Championship
Tests against Argentina.
Although the home challenge against tournament newcomers the
Pumas, at Newlands on August 18, could probably be regarded as the “easiest” of
all six Bok matches on paper in the competition, Meyer will want nothing less
than winning starts from each Argentina game before more established superpowers
Australia and New Zealand are tackled.
The Boks play an immediate follow-up game against their
first-up foes in Mendoza a week after the Cape Town encounter, before another
fortnight’s break precedes their two-match Australasian leg.
South Africa safely seeing off the Pumas each time will be
vital to their chances of going on to win the new-look four-nation event.
So Meyer is unlikely to afford himself the luxury of resting
any essential personnel in the early stages – even if he will know deep down that
his Sharks troops, especially, will still be nursing bumps and bruises and a
particularly deep-rooted travel fatigue.
However commendably the Chiefs played in the one-sided Super
Rugby final on Saturday, many neutrals will know that the Sharks were simply
not going to be able to reach the required levels of physical and mental
preparedness after their extraordinary yo-yoing between continents in the
Once they started slipping behind on the scoreboard as the
first half ran its course, it became increasingly obvious there would be no way
back for them and things just got uglier on the scoreboard instead.
Under normal circumstances, for example, you would have
expected the Sharks -- with their trusty all-Bok front row of Beast Mtawarira,
Bismarck du Plessis and Jannie du Plessis -- to get at least a measure of
superiority in the scrums, but even that did not occur in the final.
Certain other Springboks from that franchise also battled to
find their “A-games” against the Chiefs and it is probably naive to believe
that the available fortnight ahead of the Newlands Test will be enough to get
some of them back – hey presto -- to their best levels.
Yet Meyer putting out anything less than his desired first
XV on August 18 is unlikely, and understandably so.
A proud scrummaging ethic, after all, is a long-standing
hallmark of Argentina’s game and a lack of current depth or confidence in front
row back-up material is reflected in Meyer’s decision to drop his initial
second-choice tighthead prop Werner Kruger from the 30-strong Bok squad for the
Pumas games and introduce the Lions’ Pat Cilliers instead.
Mercifully, during the course of the Castle Championship, there
will be some bye weekends between assignments and these ought to help nurse
some presently labouring Bok troops back to more optimal levels of readiness.
When he announced his squad at Worcester at the weekend, the
coach again emphasised his desire for “continuity” so major changes to the
personnel who won the three-Test series against England 2-0 in June would come
as a surprise.
By and large, South Africa performed satisfactorily in their
earliest games under the new regime, with those who are already critical of
Meyer’s selection and tactical formula perhaps putting too much weight on the
stumbling performance in the drawn last Test in Port Elizabeth which was, let’s
not forget, a dead-rubber occasion.
Meyer has confessed that some stalwarts he continues to
fancy, like halfbacks Morne Steyn and Francois Hougaard, have under-performed
and will need to lift their games a gear against the Pumas.
In a roundabout way, he was probably saying their starting
places are safe for the time being, and the same may well apply to someone like
No 5 lock Juandre Kruger, who nevertheless faces pressure from a fit-again
Andries Bekker for the “athletic” lock slot.
The team he chooses, then, for the Newlands fixture will
probably differ little from this if there is a clean bill of health for all
15 Zane Kirchner, 14 JP Pietersen 13 Jean de Villiers (captain),
12 Frans Steyn, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre
Spies, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth,
3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
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