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Bok front 5 options narrow

2009-11-18 14:27

Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – South Africa’s bid to break their European tour duck at the fourth attempt, against Italy on Saturday, is being bedevilled by a lethal cocktail of injury, form and threadbare-option concerns.

It will be interesting to see when, exactly, the Test side to play the Six Nations bottom-sawyers in Udine is actually revealed: coach Peter de Villiers and company have all sorts of head-scratching to do in the aftermath of another galling reverse against Saracens at Wembley.

And it is hard to feel hugely sympathetic – in some respects chickens are coming home to roost in the shape of nutty, ill-conceived pre-tour selections, especially in the heart of the battered (both “midweek” and Test-level) scrum.

A variety of naïve, ham-handed picks for a northern hemisphere-specific trek, coupled with a growing list of tour casualties – par for the course at the end of an exhausting year – have conspired to leave a worrying whiff of uncertainty in the air as the Boks gear up for the assault, hazardous in its likely bluntness, of Nick Mallett’s Italian charges.

Several senior, established Test stars are battling to be fit in time, their ranks including Bismarck du Plessis and Schalk Burger, and to compound matters a few credible players who might have provided “refreshment” to the footsore XV this weekend, like Andries Bekker and CJ van der Linde, are fighting niggles themselves post-Sarries.

So how the all-important -- and presently fiercely-scrutinised -- front five, in particular, will look on Saturday is anybody’s guess right now.

Even if he cuts the fitness mustard, is it worth fielding Du Plessis at hooker this weekend? The normally abrasive Sharks man is among several Boks rather obviously labouring after the Lions and Tri-Nations exertions, while the same very much applies to loosehead Beast Mtawarira.

In the latter’s case, might he be a lamb to the spit at the hands of a certain Martin Castrogiovanni, who has already feasted on braaied Springbok and liked it, on the Italian tighthead side?

Alternatively, do you throw Wian du Preez into the cauldron for probably the stiffest examination yet of his Bok front-line credentials?
Either possibility looks just a little grisly at present.

Maybe the answer lies in Heinke van der Merwe, arguably the foremost victim of fruitcake tour strategy in suddenly learning from a cavalier coach De Villiers just before departure that he was earmarked as “tighthead cover” on the trip.

Just the relief of pulling a more rightful No 1 jersey over his head – where he had been making fine strides before his long-term injury -- might inspire him to epic resistance against the mountainous Castrogiovanni.

There have been whispers that the route back to urgent scrumming stability lies in captain John Smit – a blow, maybe, to the exemplary leader’s pride as he fights to bed down in his new role? -- returning to hooker, thus ensuring a front row not exactly shy on kilograms.

But Van der Linde hobbling off after only 11 minutes against Saracens possibly throws a spanner in those works because, outside of Smit, that leaves a barren tour cupboard in specialist No 3s.

Disturbingly, the Du Preez-Adriaan Strauss-Van der Linde front row seemed to provide no new cause for South African scrummaging enthusiasm against Sarries, who basically got both their tries off a back-pedalling opposition set-piece, although there are two key reasons why it is unfair to judge them on that match.

The first is the obvious disruption caused by Van der Linde’s early exit – replacement Van der Merwe, surprise, surprise, looked like a snoek writhing on the N1 at tighthead – and the other that the dirt-trackers fatally fielded two beanstalk, “athletic” locks in Bekker and rookie Alistair Hargreaves: it is hard to believe there was enormous go-forward from the second row.

Individually, both men certainly had decent moments but they were always going to be too “samey” to be effective as a combination, especially in a European environment that always favours at least one door-stop customer at lock and preferably even two.

And now Bekker’s rib problem means the opportunity may no longer be possible to give Victor Matfield a much-needed rest against Italy and recharge his batteries for the climax against Ireland, unbeaten this year.

Pairing Bakkies Botha with similarly “physical” Bulls team-mate Danie Rossouw against Italy would not the worst idea in the world, although the latter, frankly, has been a huge disappointment against both Leicester Tigers, where he lost his composure, and more recently in largely anonymous second-half duty against Saracens.

It never rains but it pours?

Sport24

Comments
  • Springbok - 2009-11-18 14:54

    I think the time has come for the return of Smith to hooker. I like Bismark but the scrum is more important than his broken play. The whole pack should also work towards a better scrum. It's not just the front rows work. The way we scrum these days are embarrasing

  • Robert - 2009-11-18 14:57

    The finger to all you people who told me that "I must really be pee'd at PdV great performances"... how the "mighty" fall... not beating France... okay I can understand - great team that played out of their socks.... but Tigers and Saracens??? What a joke!!!

  • Get Real - 2009-11-18 15:04

    It was a long season, the boys are tired! Super 14, Lions, Tri Nations, Currie cup and now this tour. They can loose al the games for what I care, they achieved alot this year. The best Wednesday team were any way left at home.

  • wayne - 2009-11-18 15:15

    You cant play rugby if you cant win the ball in the set pieces!!! I think the boks should have been rested. At the moment our guys are so stuffed I predict the whole of next years rugby will be a disaster! The Aussies will win the super14 and tri-nations coz the all blacks are looking just as poked as us :( PDV should have listened to the doctor about resting the players. All the things the doc highlighted is now comming to pass.

  • dumpie - 2009-11-18 15:20

    come on guys!! we have achieved so much this year and we are still No.1! dont take anything from this dumb tour. Bok for life!

  • KYK - 2009-11-18 15:21

    Come on now @Robert, these blokes are tired. Or you want to suggest the coaching play as well? Look defeats like these one are understandable as @Get Real elaborated.

  • del - 2009-11-18 15:21

    these guys are professional sportsmen with professional coaches - make it work BUT ensure that the best are picked not some hopeful filled with promise - you can buy that on every corner - experience comes with time.

  • Visionary - 2009-11-18 15:22

    I would say at this point in time to send our 10 stars home... The series is already in shambles, and the next two fixtures could be critical experience for the inexperienced players. I say send home our senior star players! Send home Matfield, Botha, Spies, Beast, Du Preez, Steyn, Fourie, Habana, Burger and Smit. Let the youngsters take the reigns and learn to play as a group! It is risky, but hell, if you dont take risks you will never succeed. Also, these senior players could face serious injury which would result in these inexperienced players playing anyway

  • GP - 2009-11-18 15:26

    Since we experiment with players, we can strengthen the scrum and in the absence of Pierre Spies we can move Bismark to eighth man and John back at hooker..

  • Ian - 2009-11-18 15:26

    How can it be the front rows fault after reading most of the posts on this site it has to be the ref , if it's not him then the players are tired (ag shame), it's too cold, it's wet, it dosen't really matter as it is only a NH team, they sung the Anthem badly, the flag was upside down, the IRB doesn't like us, any excuse except admit the best side won on the night, FRANCE. It seems to me the only way we can solve this problem is to let the Boks pick the ref, where they play, who they play and when they play. The problem is if the Boks lose who are the many bias supporters going to blame then.

  • Gtr - 2009-11-18 15:28

    Is Gary Gold any good? Get the OS to coach the Bokke to scrum again. I aggree with Springbok... Either move John back to hooker, or we will have to drop John, and get a proper front row. I believe there is enough experience in the side to cope with John's departure as captain. But to carry on like this isn't fair on John, the Bokke or whoever should be in the no3 jumper. Surely no-one is irreplaceble.

  • GP - 2009-11-18 15:31

    That is naturally when Bismark is fit again...

  • sean - 2009-11-18 15:33

    Stop this "its been a long season" bull. These are professional rugby players, its their job. The Springboks should never be allowed to look bad. That means, every game where a springbok jersey is worn div must select the BEST available team. End of story. Its no use being the world champion team in some games, we must be in all the games!

  • robert barrie - 2009-11-18 15:33

    Many of these guys served us well from 2003; took the tri-nations twice; won the world cup; beat the B&I Lions and assisted in winning the super 14 but............this is a hard game and time has come to move on........we might not have replacements but need to get them...........NOW! Old soldiers can talk about the war but cant always do FIGHT again. So, the challenge is on for the new guys. This include the captain as well!

  • GPC - 2009-11-18 15:35

    Yes they get paid a lot, and money aside, these guys follows diet protocols to bring out the best physical condition they can be. There is only so much the body can do. Prof Tim Noakes is sitting back and saying "I told you so" It's not the old days when they played 4 internationals a year and playing 5 other curriecup teams to see who's the best. Super 14 (13-14 games), Lions Tour (3 Games) Tri Nations (6 Games) and then Currie Cup (last 3-4 rounds) It's not the players, the coaches needs to look at human science more and be open to advice from people who really want the Boks to play well. Sarfu needs to cap each player at around 75% attendance for Super 14 to force the coaches in rotating and resting the players, 1st choice Spingboks to be capped @ 50%. I would really like to see my Bulls team perform well, but not for the sake of a bad Springbok team. More players will be exposed to "big" rugby, and that will create even more depth and choices.

  • Jaco - 2009-11-18 15:37

    Why don’t we pick players that play abroad for the year end tour? They are already acclimatised, know what to expect, management can then keep an eye on world cup candidates like Frans Steyn, Jean De Villiers, BJ Botha, Wickus van Heerden, Schalk Brits, Mujati, Pat Barnard, Butch James to name a few so that they also stay familiar with the Springbok setup. Do this only for the year end tours to rest some key players. The experience of these players will make a huge positive impact on the young talented players that are currently being slaughtered because of bad management

  • hannes - 2009-11-18 15:38

    Please bring representation back! Chiliboy and Guthro! Why have they now disappeared. And Rosy with AD should be a fantastic combination. Put Divs lucky few back and lets lose the game properly in the name of "building for the 2025 World Cup" and .............. Wish we could set up a "test" between the current Boks and those that are playing overseas. When is Div going to swallow his pride and consider ALL SA players in picking his team. Only then will we retain the World Cup.

  • Malume - 2009-11-18 15:40

    I'm still waiting for those commentators who were saying PDiv does not know what he's doing he's not chosen the right guys. Players like Chilli and Guthro got injured early and replaced by the favoured players,some Cheetahs are seeing action but still not victory for the mid week team. After the first loss someone quickly said Gold must be fired,i mean WTF?? DO WE HAVE DEPTH IN OUR TEAM? If Beast,Bismark,Victor,Smit and Bakkies can be unavailable for some reason,it will only take 3 players from the opposition to push our scrummers backwards.

  • MACKIE - 2009-11-18 15:40

    Its for these reasons Ive always maintained I'm a BULL supporter first.They would not have lost to the English clubs ,and murdered the Frogs on Friday,after the anthem and flag insult.Many of these Boks although very talented,dont have BMT,and cant finish when the chips are down.Yes its been a long season ,but,your'e wearing green and gold ,your'e a Bok, show some courage and character.Win or at least look like your'e trying ,I'm afraid TWAKKIE ,Tweedledee and Tweedledum ,cant cut the mustard.

  • cruz - 2009-11-18 15:43

    How long before the message gets through the thick skulls of the Bok coaches and they put Smith back at hooker??? This landslide or is it scrumslide has been in the offing for a while. Bismark must go home, Smith back where he belongs and get a couple of the Cheetahs in the fray! The idiocy of some of the selections is now biting them in the a..e! All of a sudden Italy looks dangerous? Come on! PDV should have listened and rested his frontline Bokke. Come 2010 and we are going to have a long uphill battle! Tri-nations, Super14, manne, as they say in the classics, ons gaan k*k.

  • Dgs - 2009-11-18 15:48

    Never in my whole life have I ever seen our scrumming in such a sorry state . What is happening?

  • Chris - 2009-11-18 15:49

    The cracks are showing, everybody knew the streneous program for 2009, the honeymoon after Jake White is over. Perhaps a fax to the WP captain to help out. Predict a whitewash against Italy and the rest of the tour.

  • JJ - 2009-11-18 15:53

    @dumpie: We are not #1 any more. NZ #1(90.52) and SA #2(89.97) since 16 November 2009

  • Droerwors - 2009-11-18 15:53

    Bogger die vaste 5 , ons het 'n vaste 6 nodig !

  • Springbok - 2009-11-18 15:54

    These okes are tired. Blah. Bakkies and Burger had rest this year when they were banned. Bakkies, Habana, Du Preez & Fourie aslo had injuries in the S14. Fourie was on the bench in the beginning of the test series. Smit was injured and rested in the CC and the list go on. The only player to play every match this year is Matfield and he surely don't make the entire team. My point is most of the first team had rest during the year. We can also rest them in the beginning next year. The best available team must always play the test on the day against any opposition.

  • Calla - 2009-11-18 15:58

    @ Visionary - Spies stayed behind before they left - but I agree with you and John Robbie - this tour was one tour too many - hopefully the Italian scrum (that gave The All Blacks a run for their money this weekend) don't lead to a first loss to Italy on this tour - how windgat will Nic Mallet be then???

  • Mo - 2009-11-18 16:06

    Errmm the French and the English clubs and the Italians all played rugby for a long period now as well. Maybe their get-out-of-being-tired-pills works better than the bok's? Div to answer, full stop!

  • phil - 2009-11-18 16:10

    I read once that teams perform in a 3year cycle if they are not manged well. Jake White won the 3 nations in 2004, but in 2006 the Sprinboks were awful. We won the WC in 2007 and in 2010, we are going to be awful. It is not so bad as long as we win the cup again in 2011!

  • Toss the Midget - 2009-11-18 16:10

    The fact of the matter is that in all SA`s games this year, we only "won" one second half and that was the 2nd test against the Lions. This happened in June, July, August and now. Maybe we must start to question what our brilliant coach says at halftime and the replacements` policy ( which mostly seem to be disruptive).

  • JOHNWHO? - 2009-11-18 16:19

    Wake up and drop JOHN!!!!!

  • Cullart - 2009-11-18 16:20

    Mmmm... we were srcummed out of the park..so much for Eddie Jones and Jake W saying that this phase is just to restart the game. PDV Heinke is nie 'n vaskop nie, los hom op loskop. We need a good tight head and CJ does not appear to be the answer

  • Stop-it - 2009-11-18 16:25

    To everybody that is saying that Peter De Villiers should have rested the top players and taken the younger ones with you seem to forget something. The younger players although they didn't play in the test also played Super 14 in most cases and the entire Currie Cup. So they will also be tired. Secondly we all saw what happened last time when Jake White took a sub-par team to England. The IRB vowed that they will never allow this to happen again in IRB sanctioned test matches. I would love to have a "what-if" machine to go back select an under rated team and then see all your comments on the article saying how pathetic Peter De Villiers is and how he doesn't know rugby from netball. Remember that he doesn't choose this squad on his own there is a panel of selectors with which he only has an input not the sole and final say. So please grow up stop complaining and start supporting this team. Remember that it is not just us who are battling in the scrums, Ireland pretty much destroyed the Aussies last weekend and Italy gave the All Blacks a very good fight upfront. That is currently the difference between the northern and southern hemispheres. If the teams scrummed in the tri-nations the way they scrum up north then they were penalised. Case in point look at the Bulls - WP semi. Wickus Blaauw had the upperhand over Guthro but the ref decided in his mind that that isn't possible so therefor Blaauw needs to be penalised. Guthro gets selected for the bok tour same thing happens on tour and the now impartial ref blows according to the laws and penalises Guthro now suddenly everybody is asking but how can he be so weak, the answer our refs in Super 14 and CC favours certain players and teams and through that gives a false impression of what is really happening in the front row.

  • NS - 2009-11-18 16:30

    Perhaps if they play Danie Rossouw for longer than 20min in a game, he would not be such a "disapointment' as you put it, Rob. Instead, Div insists on using Bekker to replace both Matfield and Botha - which doesnt make sense considering he does not have the skills for a number 4 lock.

  • Peter - 2009-11-18 16:34

    Malume, don't be a total ass!! The Cheetahs you mentioned, have been stuffed from the start!! Wian had to come off the bench against Saracens, and then had the joyful experience of scrumming with Heinke, who a) is unfit, and rusty, and b) is most certainly not a tighthead!! In the test against France Wian was on the bench, as a LH replacement, but Helium chose to bring CJ on to replace Beast!! So don't criticize the Cheetahs for Helium's asnine selections, and substitutions!! The Cheetah front row destroyed every scrum in the CC, playing well as a unit. Had these players had a chance to train together things might have gotten better, but to scrum down with a new player in the middle of a tour match is unlikely to bring any improvement!!

  • Lorenz Hesse - 2009-11-18 16:59

    The end of the year tour is a holiday bonus for the Springboks. With out a proper base camp in Europe with proper fisical and game managment training for couple weeks will the boks be a failure. There is need for proper human fisical fitness training in a complete different climate condition as in South Africa.The demand on the boks after 8 months rugby is to mutch. But the Junior Team needs proper AND AT LENGTH preperations to be fit for Europe.

  • dawid - 2009-11-18 17:08

    call BJ BOTHA still best no 3 SA 's had in a long time.

  • Webb - 2009-11-18 17:43

    Why not accept Tim Noaks's advice??

  • Selection Options - 2009-11-18 17:45

    If PdeV has so many problems, due to injuries and whatever, why not make use of all the good SA players right there in Europe and the UK. Select them as I am sure they would not mind helping this circus out of more embarrasment.

  • Ron - 2009-11-18 17:53

    Why did we keep John Smit in the middle of the scrum during the world cup, we had better loose players like Schalk Brits to choose from, but Jake new we needed the stability of a big strong hooker in the scrums

  • what a joke - 2009-11-18 17:58

    The sun is setting on the brilliant Jake White era. At least we knew what it felt like to be at the top, which makes the fall that much harder. SA rugby is exactly like the ANC, more concerned with representation than ability and skill, that’s why affirmative action in business and sport is a disaster. Imagine telling Robbie Deans that he has to pick a side on colour and not skill. He would tell you to get knotted. The team PDV picked lost to the team he didn’t pick. Plain and simple.

  • PLOTTY - 2009-11-18 19:12

    The IRB has added a new category for nominations: Refs that can hammer South Africa. The beloved Stu Dickenson was nominated first, followed by plain Wayne Barnes. Last night they added some unknown Welsh zombie. When I wrote to congratulate them they replied: You aint seen nothin yet. Yikes!

  • Piet Van Rensberg - 2009-11-18 21:55

    It has been said for many years that the most important player on the rugby field is the Tight Head Prop and the second most important player on a rugby field is the reserve Tight Head Prop. Why are we making a new position called the "Captains Position" If John Smit is no longer good enough to be the number 1 hooker in South Africa then he shouldn't be in the team. He certainly has shown that he is one of the worst Tight Head Props in World Rugby. Bring Back our Tight Heads and let them keep our scrum going forward and not ten paces backwards.

  • Ian - 2009-11-19 07:04

    What I don't understand is all international rugby players play a massive amount of rugby for club and country why is it only the Boks are tired or is it the supporters just using this as an excuse. The Lions came to South Africa at the end of a long season and lost a close series 2-1 I certainly do not remember them and certainly their supporters blaming the results on them been tired. Guys get a life out players are professionals if they are not fit to play for whatever reason pick someone else we do have more than 22 players to choose from.

  • Koekemoer - 2009-11-19 09:15

    PdV is the reason for our front-row problems... ...he has no clue...

  • Barry - 2009-11-19 09:23

    Simple: TOO MUCH RUGBY!!! Anyone who has played the game at some senior level would know that it takes a lot out of you!!! Now imagine the level of physicality you played at and multiply that by 10! Sure they are professional athletes, but doing it for most of the year week after week? Not possible. We are damaging our top players with this end of the year tour!! And we are making these Northern Hemesphere idiots look better than they are!!! I am not too worried about our depth though. We do not need a Springbok 2nd team! The second string guys are good enough to fit into the 1ste team.

  • Piet Khoza - 2009-11-19 10:45

    John is not a tighthead. He played loose head at under 21 level with Natal under 21. At international level you simply need people who has the skill and experience of playing in their positions. It is unfair on John to be asked to be a tighthead as he nears the end of his international rugby career. South Africa has many talanted tightheads, but our rugby is being stuffed up by politics: call it the ANC, the Boerebond, the Souties, ag what ever. Our rugby and our country will continue to slide into disarray aslong as we continue to over look facts and try to be politically correct. Viva Orlando Pirates

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