Boks on Tour
Rob Houwing - Sport24 chief writer
Bok brew looks spot-on
Johannesburg – The Springbok senior brains trust appear to have responded positively to the key warning signs that came out of their dirt-trackers’ debacle against Leicester Tigers.
If some may consider the match-day 22 for the Test against France in Toulouse on Friday notably lop-sided in favour of forwards - and of the tighter variety in particular - at least pro-active steps have been taken to prevent the Bok top-tier team suffering similar indignity in the scrums.
The side announced at Monte Casino here on Tuesday is striking for the cover options it provides in the heart of the engine room: you can assemble a pretty compelling entire tight five from the bench options.
Not only are injury-necessitated late call-ups Wian du Preez (loosehead prop) and Adriaan Strauss (hooker) of the Cheetahs immediately promoted to the Test bench, but Irish-based tighthead CJ van der Linde earns a similar nod.
With Andries Bekker and Danie Rossouw also among the reserves, the second row is comprehensively covered, while the latter provides loose-forward options if required at blindside or No 8.
You could argue that if Bok backline players freakishly topple like trees in a storm in Toulouse, resources may be dangerously stretched - the only backs in the 5-2 bench split are Wynand Olivier and the versatile (which is a comfort) Ruan Pienaar.
But if there are obvious risks in this formula, at least South Africa should not be caught with their pants down against France in areas of play that were rather hideously exposed at Welford Road last Friday.
Maybe you can question the morality of coach Peter de Villiers resorting to Leinster-based Van der Linde as back-up to captain John Smit at tighthead: aren’t overseas-based Boks supposedly persona non grata while not in the domestic fold?
What must Jean de Villiers and Frans Steyn be making of this?
Then again, there is also a case for defending De Villiers’ decision on the grounds that, for what might just be the toughest game of the tour, having a 56 Bok-capper around is better than blooding yet another greenhorn like WP Nel right now in a taxing environment on the other side of the equator.
Various Bok debutants, after all, had looked like rabbits in the headlights against an uncompromising and “pumped” Leicester.
The coach justified his stance at the press conference thus: “Look, I had a vision for after 2011 … taking younger guys amidst experienced players on (this) tour, so that they could get used to the culture of Springbok rugby.
“But some experienced players have got injured so I’ve gone back to some similarly experienced ones for (immediate needs), and the plan to have some of the others ready for post-2011 is still intact.
“We lost our entire front row last Friday night, so do you bring in further new players from South Africa who can’t be proven yet, or go for someone who knows the structures and has played with the (senior) guys before? We’re pleased to call on someone with such experience.
“We expect a huge onslaught. But we also know we have the firepower to deal with it.”
A pleasing feature of the Test 22, perhaps, is that for all the emphasis on gnarly tight forwards, the starting loose trio may just surprise the French - who have plumped for big, physical counterparts - with its mobility and explosiveness.
Heinrich Brussow and Schalk Burger pair up on the flanks once more in a quest to cause havoc at the breakdown, while Ryan Kankowski, deputising for injured first-choice Pierre Spies at No 8, gets a further chance to show that he can gallop around with aplomb while hopefully also “mixing it” a bit when necessary against opponents traditionally not averse to a spot of cynicism and mongrel.
Captain Smit, meanwhile, told Sport24 on the eve of the senior squad’s departure for Europe that the Boks’ approach would be to try to de-emphasize the “end-of-year-tour” tag, with its implied suggestion of season-ending fatigue.
“It’s a pretty short tour this time - our approach is that it’s not an end-of-year mission but rather three games where we’ve got to defend what we’ve worked so hard for.
“There are two ways of looking at it: yes, you could say there is more to lose than gain on a trip like this.
“But the more we win the more the pressure builds and the ante is raised. We’d rather be in this position (after so successful a year) than going on a European tour trying to redeem ourselves or salvage some kind of pride.
“The guys enjoy putting that jersey goes over their heads … it’s (automatic) motivation.”