Brüssow edging closer to Boks
Cape Town - You have to be careful these days not to use performances in the diluted Currie Cup as too big a yardstick toward international credentials.
But in Bloemfontein on Saturday night Heinrich Brüssow will have given plenty of depressed Springbok supporters some cause for renewed cheer as his comeback from several weeks on the sidelines probably only exceeded expectations.
Clearly the 26-year-old has a remarkable engine, because he somehow managed to finish as strongly as anyone for the Cheetahs in a breathless, exciting Currie Cup encounter - the home team battered away for fully five minutes after the final siren to try to force an equalising try in a 29-22 defeat to a Western Province team who grab the tournament lead on points differential from the Lions and Sharks at the round-robin midway mark.
Significantly, despite his recent lack of game-time, the low-slung, big-hearted open-side flanker was a bundle of energy for those 85 personally uninterrupted minutes.
In short, Brüssow’s mobility and ball sense made him a creative factor on attack at times, but he also excelled at his real forte of being a menace at the breakdown, if not always actually stealing ball then at least going a long way to slowing down WP possession or stopping their mauling initiatives.
He made enough of an impression for a tearaway Bok loose forward of yesteryear, Rob Louw (@roblouw6) to enthusiastically tweet: “Brussow in his 1st match back ... great. Send him to NZ.”
The wobbling Springboks next play world champions New Zealand on Saturday as their challenge in the Castle Rugby Championship continues to fade, following the sobering loss to Australia in Perth.
It is almost certainly “win or bust” for the Boks in Dunedin, who are five points behind the unbeaten All Blacks at the halfway mark and will just about hand the 2012 title to Richie McCaw’s side if they play second fiddle - already some more pessimistic Bok enthusiasts are probably secretly hoping only that the tourists keep the score down anyway.
The Wallabies, aided in no small measure by fielding a specialist open-sider against South Africa in young Michael Hooper, continue to look less than world-beaters themselves, so their 26-19 triumph puts the Boks’ current plight in stark perspective.
Still, you would think it is highly unlikely that embattled coach Heyneke Meyer
will suddenly issue an eleventh-hour tour call-up to Brussow, who he had stubbornly ignored before his most recent injury setback anyway.
A likelier scenario is that the Free Stater will make himself a near-irresistible candidate for the closing, home leg of the tournament for the Boks against Australia in Pretoria (September 29) and then New Zealand in Soweto (October 6).
There were times in Perth where the Boks, despite some periods of promising supremacy, did cry out for swifter numbers to breakdowns, as they were instead frustratingly turned over.
Unfortunately Marcell Coetzee
, who nevertheless remains a great prospect for the Boks and offers options both at No 7 and No 8, is looking increasingly less, rather than the obviously desired more, accomplished on the open side.
Not that his is a lone, problematic loose forward spot: big unit Willem Alberts
is yet to fully convince on the blind-side as an “80 minutes” factor, whilst Duane Vermeulen
had a subdued debut as eighthman at Patersons Stadium.
Indeed, in Vermeulen clearly still being short of a gallop (though he warrants another crack in Dunedin?) probably lies a lesson to Meyer and company: don’t be in too obscene a hurry to rush back somebody like Brüssow from Currie Cup comeback activity.
It would make sense, arguably, for the coach to hand existing squad member Francois Louw
a start at No 6 on Saturday after the Bath man was restricted to just over 20 minutes off the bench in Perth, perhaps not quite enough time to make a meaningful impact.
Louw, at least, is one player who can boast a rare accolade: once emphatically getting the better of the great McCaw on the deck, a famous night in 2010 when the Stormers thrashed the Crusaders 42-14 in a Super Rugby fixture.
Even something moderately close to a repeat would represent a major tonic to the Boks’ upset hopes, wouldn’t it?
*Saturday’s next round of Currie Cup fixtures (home teams first): Griquas v Blue Bulls, 15:00, Cheetahs v Lions, 17:05, Sharks v Western Province, 19:10.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing