Daniel a glaring Bok snub?
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Keegan Daniel’s storming start to the Absa Currie Cup as Sharks captain on Saturday is bound to open up fresh debate as to whether the Springboks are missing a trick in the key position of open-side flank.
Gallery: Currie Cup kicks off
When they finally get there, of course -- the sound mechanical health of a Qantas replacement jet perhaps a fairly important determinant -- the weakened Bok squad will limber up in Sydney for their first Tri-Nations assignment against the Wallabies next weekend.
All the smoke signals suggest that, with Heinrich Brussow likely to stay in cotton wool for a while longer despite his presence among the party, the Bulls’ Deon Stegmann will start at No 6 on Saturday, alongside Danie Rossouw and Ashley Johnson as the loose trio.
And a few people in Durban and a bit beyond, frankly, may well be wondering whether Peter de Villiers and company have picked the right stand-in whippet for the job, if that indeed turns out to be the case.
That school of thought was reinforced at Mr Price Kings Park as Daniel, recently named as the defending champions’ skipper for the duration of the campaign, turned in a rip-roaring performance against the Blue Bulls, Stegmann’s own franchise, who were put to the sword by four tries to one.
Admittedly Daniel operated at No 8 in a strong-gelling alliance with Jacques Botes and exciting rookie Marcell Coetzee, but all the qualities that also define his “fetcher” play were consistently in evidence as the Sharks got off to the proverbial flier in the domestic competition.
There is something about the scent of a blue jersey in front of him that always brings out the best in Humansdorp-born Daniel, still not the most physically imposing loosie you will ever see but hardly lacking in the ticker department or for all-round skills.
He was an up-tempo combatant from start to finish and the perfectly justified choice – let’s face it, sometimes they get this accolade all pear-shaped – as man of the match.
The 26-year-old’s pace in open play and on the break came in extremely handy as the Sharks produced constructive, crowd-pleasing passages of play they hadn’t always managed, it must be said, in an iffy Super Rugby season for them, despite that late surge into the finals series.
Often the “eight, nine, 10” synergy is as vital as that of the loose trio themselves, so with scrumhalf Ross Cronje a revelation and the seasoned French international Freddie Michalak also oozing purpose and vigour in the flyhalf channel, the Bulls defence had its hands full in the unexpectedly thumping 35-16 reverse.
Arguably the best of the Sharks’ quartet of touchdowns came when, conveniently just before half-time, Cronje showed delightfully silky footwork in exploiting a gap before all three loose forwards handled the ball, Coetzee doing the finishing task.
Daniel gave the deft final off-load to the blindside flank, and it was a demoralising concession by the Bulls, because it took the Sharks two scores clear as the teams went down the tunnel, a situation you seldom felt the blunt visitors would be able to recover from.
No true Springbok supporter will wish Stegmann any ill-fortune if he does, as expected, start on Saturday, but it is also probably not unfair to say that a wee bit of extra pressure will be upon him to make an impact, given Daniel’s rapid “statement” in the first round of the Currie Cup.
Both players toured the northern hemisphere with the national side at the end of last season, with Daniel missing out entirely on caps while Stegmann, by contrast, debuted against Ireland and started each of the three subsequent Tests.
But he also didn’t set the world alight on the slower, heavier pitches – South Africa had toured, remember, without the injured Schalk Burger -- and was often substituted some time before games had run their courses.
At Super Rugby level, Stegmann tends to get penalised for breakdown offences rather more frequently than Daniel does, and plays second fiddle to him also for general dynamism and X-factor.
So it is safe to say that in Sydney, perhaps in a faster and drier environment on Saturday, the Bulls man must urgently silence a few knockers, many of them KwaZulu-Natalian, I fancy ...