Boks opt for crusty front 5
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Springbok skipper John Smit - 94 caps. (File)
Cape Town – The Springboks will pin much hope on a tight five with a combined tally of 276 caps in their Test match against France at Newlands on Saturday.
Clearly aware that they will be required to fight fire with fire in the engine room against opponents renowned for their own general robustness and a sound scrum, tighthead prop BJ Botha is the least experienced member of the unit – and even he has played for South Africa 20 times.
Once the versatile CJ van der Linde, who played at loosehead against Wales last weekend but is more at home at No 3, had been offloaded from the broad squad named this week, this was always the likeliest combination.
The starting unit announced by coach Peter de Villiers on Tuesday includes Botha, captain John Smit (94 caps) and Gurthro Steenkamp (22) in the front row, with the predictable Bulls lock pairing of Victor Matfield (93) and Danie Rossouw (47) behind them.
Some eyebrows may be raised over the retention of Ulster-based Botha, who was widely perceived to have struggled in the set-piece against a Welsh pack not even fielding their first-choice loosehead Gethin Jenkins.
But preparation for the Cardiff date was pretty rushed and this “technical” scrummager has been given another opportunity in a department not hugely stocked with good candidates at present.
For Steenkamp - whom Smit enthused at the press briefing had had a “massive” Vodacom Super 14 - this similarly represents a marvellous opportunity to cement the No 1 jersey for himself, now that Beast Mtawarira has been deemed ineligible for South Africa for the moment.
The Bulls favourite, who turns 29 on match-day, was considered a great prospect several years ago and a natural successor to Os du Randt.
But his scrumming went off the boil for a while even as he always busied himself admirably in open play.
They don’t come tougher to subdue than French packs, so if Steenkamp excels at his primary task on Saturday he will be a long way down the road to being regular loosehead for the Tri-Nations and beyond it.
Meanwhile the Bok loose trio sees Francois Louw crack the nod over Dewald Potgieter in the battle between Young Turks for the other flank berth (with veteran Juan Smith still unavailable, of course) alongside gnarly Schalk Burger.
His successful Stormers alliance with Burger may have been a swaying factor, especially as Louw is slightly better suited to “fetching” than Potgieter is.
The team as a whole is a reflection of Super 14 prowess this year, with no fewer than seven Bulls and six Stormers/Western Province players in the starting XV and 18 from these franchises in total in the match 22.
So from that point of view, coach De Villiers and company appear to be spot-on.
Not likely to be universally lauded, however, will be his decision to retain Ricky Januarie at scrumhalf against France.
The nuggety No 9, who was mostly the second-choice for the Stormers this season, is more known for his in-your-face qualities than his overall finesse, although he sometimes cops unwarranted criticism from certain lobbies and did have a decent match at the Millennium Stadium against Mike Phillips, probably the biggest scrumhalf on the international circuit.
Still, the Ruan Pienaar fan club will doubtless be pretty close to outraged, as De Villiers’ supposed “Tiger Woods” is limited to the bench.
Thought for the day: perhaps that makes Januarie his “Jack Nicklaus”?
The diminutive but huge-hearted Gio Aplon gets another opportunity on the right wing, a situation probably made easier by Odwa Ndungane being ruled out by injury, although there was a case for shifting, say, Jaque Fourie to a wider berth to accommodate Jean de Villiers or Juan de Jongh in midfield – both Newlands-based players are among the reserves.
Zane Kirchner? Again, with Frans Steyn rather unceremoniously dumped after Cardiff, he was always going to be the fullback this week.
He did fluff the collection of a high ball which led to a Welsh try on Saturday, but he had barely entered the fray off the bench at the time and was competent enough in the Super 14 to warrant selection on those terms.Teams:South Africa:
15. Zane Kirchner, 14. Gio Aplon, 13. Jaque Fourie, 12. Wynand Olivier, 11. Bryan Habana, 10. Morné Steyn, 9. Ricky Januarie, 8. Pierre Spies, 7. Francois Louw, 6. Schalk Burger, 5. Victor Matfield, 4. Danie Rossouw, 3. BJ Botha, 2. John Smit (captain), 1. Gurthrö Steenkamp
Substitutes: 16. Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Jannie du Plessis, 18. Flip van der Merwe, 19. Dewald Potgieter, 20. Ruan Pienaar, 21. Juan de Jongh, 22. Jean de VilliersFrance:
15. Clement Poitrenaud (Toulouse), 14. Vincent Clerc (Toulouse), 13. David Marty (Perpignan), 12. Maxime Mermoz (Perpignan), 11. Aurelien Rougerie (Clermont), 10. Francois Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), 9. Morgan Parra (Clermont), 8. Julien Bonnaire (Clermont), 7. Wenceslas Lauret (Biarritz), 6. Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse, captain), 5. Romain Millo-Chluski (Toulouse), 4. Lionel Nallet (Racing-Metro), 3. Nicolas Mas (Perpignan), 2. Dimitri Szarzewski (Stade Francais), 1. Thomas Domingo (Clermont)
Substitutes: 16. Guilhem Guirado (Perpignan), 17. Jean-Baptiste Poux (Toulouse), 18. Julien Pierre (Clermont), 19. Louis Picamoles (Toulouse), 20. Dimitri Yachvili (Biarritz), 21. David Skrela (Toulouse), 22. Marc Andreu (Castres)