Rob Houwing

Sharks' Boks create dilemma

2012-08-06 14:08
Sport24 Chief Writer Rob Houwing (File)
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 playoffs phase.

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 concerned:

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.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  rugby
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