The first Springbok side of 2013 is a very
exciting one, and one that mixes continuity in selection with rewarding form
show in Super Rugby this year.
Sure coach Heyneke Meyer’s hand was forced
a little through injuries to players like Juan de Jongh, JP Pietersen, Jaco
Taute, Bismarck du Plessis and Duane Vermeulen, but he has been bold in certain
key selections, and as such, deserves credit for those.
It is fantastic to see a player like Willie
le Roux selected at fullback ahead of Zane Kirchner. Like many it seems, I have
long been calling for a player with more to offer on attack to cut the line
from fullback, and it does not come in a much more exciting package than Le
The other bold selections comes at
scrumhalf where Jano Vermaak is rewarded for his form for the Blue Bulls, who,
much to Meyer’s relief no doubt, are without doubt the leading South African
light in this year’s Super Rugby tournament.
Francois Hougaard, for a couple of reasons
it seems, has had a season to forget, and while Frans Ludeke has chosen to
start him in recent games, Meyer has gone with the crisper service and sharper
pass of Vermaak to service the inform again Morne Steyn at flyhalf, and that
makes sense. In fact, many might argue that Vermaak’s form has played a big
part in Steyn returning to form, making the retention of the combination at national
level an even more astute move.
Hougaard, available only as a scrumhalf
given his want to focus on that position, thus finds himself in the stands in
Durban on Saturday, and that in itself is a bold and decisive call from Meyer.
JJ Engelbrecht gets his first start at
outside centre, while Bjorn Basson earns his seventh cap on the wing, and both
deserve their places. Engelbrecht was probably called up a little too early
last year, but credit to Meyer for spotting the ability. He has been
sensational outside Jan Serfontein this year, but less so outside Wynand
Olivier. How he will gel with skipper Jean de Villiers is the key question.
Brilliant to see Serfontein in the 23.
Together with Robert Ebersohn and Engelbrecht, the Bok midfield needs a good
set of shades, such is the brightness of the future!
Up front there is no need for the oversees-based Gurthrö Steenkamp, Heinke van der Merwe or Schalk Brits. Even without Du
Plessis, and it makes sense not to rush him back, the Boks will be well served
by the inform Adriaan Strauss and Chiliboy Ralepelle, who struggled with
injuries last year.
As a nation, we are particularly well
stocked at loosehead, with Coenie Oosthuizen pushing Beast Mtawarira hard for a
starting berth, and the massively exciting Trevor Nyakane waiting in the wings.
And outside of that, strongmen like JC Janse van Rensberg and Steven Kitshoff
provide more than capable backup.
Not so much at tighthead though, and it is
in this key position that I question the coach’s logic. Lourens Adriaanse has
come on enormously both as a scrummager and player this year, hence the
Cheetahs being able to play from a solid platform. But to my mind, Wiehahn
Herbst has been the man challenging incumbent Jannie du Plessis for a start at
the Sharks, and should have been in the Bok squad as his deputy.
And with 23 man squads now going into
battle, you have to have a full front row on the bench, allowing you specialist
loosehead and tighthead cover, he would have been an ideal bench prop with
Instead, Meyer has gone with Nyakane and
Oosthuizen. And I can understand the coach giving into this temptation given
their ability to contribute with ball in hand and make an impact round the
field, but what happens if Du Plessis goes down in the third minute of the
game? We have all seen Oosthuizen struggle on that side of the scrum every time
he is given that last 20 minutes at tighthead for the Cheetahs. It is the one
time I would suggest a coach select conservatively and cover your basic need
for a strong scrummaging tighthead prop on the bench, especially given that you
are now allowed two blocks of granite on the bench …
So a mini question mark regarding the De
Villiers and Engelbrecht combination, a worry if Jannie goes down early, and
perhaps a lack of fetcher cover on the bench, but all in all a bloody exciting
first Springbok side. Let’s just hope they are given the freedom to play...
Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop who now heads up Tankman Media, and sprouts forth on all things rugby on the Front Row Grunt …
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