Johannesburg - One of the positive things about Peter de Villiers’s reign as Springbok coach has been his willingness to heed wake-up calls when they arrive, and it looks like he has done it again in the wake of the Leicester Tigers debacle at the weekend.
Admittedly, as with the fortuitous arrival of Heinrich Brussow, Jaque Fourie and Morne Steyn as first choice players earlier this year, the path to getting the right combinations was paved by injuries. But the Springboks will at least go into the build-up week to the first Test match of their European tour with most of the front-row players the critics believed should have been there in the first place in the squad.
And that includes big CJ van der Linde, the World Cup winning tighthead who has been left on the outside since last year’s Tri-Nations because he is playing club rugby in Ireland. Most scrumming experts have for a long time been convinced that leaving Van der Linde out is a mistake, particularly as Bok skipper John Smit has clearly struggled to make the conversion from hooker to the No 3 jersey.
Van der Linde, who last played for the Boks against Australia in the final Tri-Nations match of 2008, will join the squad this week following the withdrawal through injury of Jannie du Plessis. Having genuine back-up for Smit at tighthead should quell the misgivings of South African fans who would have been abjectly disappointed by the scrumming effort of the midweek team against Leicester Tigers.
The Bok team went down 22-17 to an under-strength Tigers team that set up the victory with an emphatic scrumming performance that induced possibly the worst performance from a Bok pack in several seasons.
Most critics questioned the omission of the Cheetahs front-row that had done so well in the Currie Cup when the squad was announced last week, and all those fears and concerns appeared vindicated as Gurthro Steenkamp, Chiliboy Ralepelle (later replaced by Bandise Maku) and Du Plessis wheeled back under the onslaught.
As it turned out, Steenkamp and Ralepelle joined Du Plessis in being injured during the mauling, so they too will be flown home, with the replacements being two of the men most thought should have been there in the first place – Cheetahs loosehead Wian du Preez and Adriaan Strauss. The only missing member of the Cheetahs front-row contingent is tighthead WP Nel.
It is anticipated the two Cheetahs will go straight into the Test match squad of 22. Theoretically Maku should be on the bench because he was selected into the initial squad ahead of Strauss, but it is unlikely any of the front-row men who were shown up at Welford Road will get a look-in for the Test matches on this tour.
The scrumming performance against the Tigers brought another reaction from the Bok management – they have decided to call in Pieter de Villiers, the South African-born former French prop, to help them drill the scrum in the Johannesburg training sessions that remain ahead of Tuesday night’s departure for France. The Boks play the first Test of the tour against France in Toulouse on Friday.