England in SA

Boks need heroic front-3 heave

2012-06-19 12:03
Bok front row (File)
Cape Town - One last major effort, boys ... that is likely to be Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s plea, amidst a general climate of fatigue taking root, to his all-Sharks, first-choice front row on Saturday.

It seems unlikely that any of Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis or Jannie du Plessis will be afforded a break against England in Port Elizabeth this weekend, despite the dead-rubber nature of the contest.

The Boks, after all, still want to make a significant statement to the world by earning a 3-0 clean sweep over a touring side who are rebuilding and already looking no mugs; a 2-1 outcome, however, would look little more than a par performance.

As much as Meyer may seek to “freshen” in certain areas, and he may be forced into it anyway by some injury considerations, certain combinations at present look too essential to the brew to break up.

One is certainly that front row. Mostly dominant in the first Test at Mr Price Kings Park, the trio were also just about holding their own against a decent England scrummaging unit at Coca-Cola Park last Saturday before significant changes were either made or forced upon the Bok pack.

And that was when a spot of angst set in: the home scrum, in particular, went into a worryingly violent reverse mode although that does sometimes happen when major reshuffling has taken place and cohesion is disturbed.

England will nevertheless have taken some gung-ho heart from that aspect of their fight-back, no doubt figuring that a certain Bok vulnerability can be cashed in on once the Sharks threesome is broken up some time in the second half.

Usually, tighthead Jannie du Plessis is hauled off with some 20 minutes left - it is commonplace in all Tests for the loosehead, usually regarded as more of an “athlete”, to stay on - and in the first two Tests against England Meyer has also given good game-time to reserve hooker Adriaan Strauss as he relieves huge grunt factor Bismarck du Plessis from his hooker’s duty so as not to flog him too excessively.

But without the behemoth Coenie Oosthuizen as a versatile, punch-packing prop option on the bench in Johannesburg, the Boks lost rather too much oomph at the set-piece with the call to action of tighthead Werner Kruger.

The Bulls man always gives you a solid work-rate and did so on Saturday with a couple of crunching tackles and one nice carry, but for scrumming power his Test credentials are still very open to question.

Just as the “Beast” started to take some increasing strain on Saturday from Dan Cole, Kruger appeared to labour against England’s impressive loosehead substitute Alex Corbisiero.

The London Irish player, 23, New York-born and of partial Italian descent, is thought to have made such a good impression that he may eclipse Joe Marler to the No 1 shirt in Port Elizabeth, and thus be entrusted with a quest to pressure the Bok scrum from the outset, rather than just in the last quarter or so.

So the importance of the seasoned, settled Sharks front-rankers maintaining or even bettering known standards for as long as possible this Saturday cannot be under-estimated.

More fortunately than the Bulls or Stormers contingents in the Bok side, all of the Sharks personnel on duty will be aware that, even if they are just beginning to tire mentally and physically themselves, they at least enter the PE Test with the knowledge that they have a bye weekend immediately ahead of them.

So for Mtawarira and the Du Plessis brothers, summoning reserves of inspiration may well be a non-negotiable.

Sections of the English media seem to believe that Mtawarira has been reasonably muted in the series thus far, though perhaps they have been unrealistic in anticipating that he would produce the sort of once-in-a-career devastation he unleashed on luckless Phil Vickery in Durban during the 2009 Lions series.

Still, Bok fans would be delighted if the ever-popular Beast - a key component of great tight-loose muscularity in this series by the South Africans, let it be said - returns to vintage scrumming best this week ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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