Lions in SA

Boks still bypass fetchers

2009-06-01 21:04
Bok squad (Gallo)
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Jake White believes fetchers are good for pulling beers out of the fridge… his successor Peter de Villiers’ choice of beverage is unclear but it seems they clink glasses in agreement philosophically.

For the whippet-like, low-flying, burrowing, stealing and spoiling No 6 is a beast that remains pretty blatantly surplus to modern Springbok requirement.

That was one of the most salient observations you could make after the announcement on Monday evening of the 28-strong national squad for the three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions.

Yes, Schalk Burger is predictably in the mix, very clearly earmarked to wear that number out of the tunnel, and a big school of thought will cry “why not?” considering his legacy of luminary achievement for his country.

But Burger, as we also know, is no fetcher in the truest sense - he’s a broad and tallish unit - and this has not been the Incredible Schalk’s most epic year thus far individually, in a misfiring Stormers side.

Indeed, nobody should be instantly branded anti-Burger for just beginning to contemplate in 2009 whether his finest years lie behind rather than ahead of him: rugby’s unprecedented collision aspect these days tends to translate into shorter “peaks” for players in certain positions, and the great blond combatant has had more than his fair share of extreme physical battery because of the no-prisoners game he plays.

Of course there’s every chance he will explode from the stalls against the Lions as bellicose and uncompromising as ever.

He may need to: he has been the beneficiary of a strong gesture of Bok faith after a Super 14 characterised by impressively destructive performances from a battery of fellow South Africans who can more comfortably be classified as genuine open-siders.

Their ranks include Heinrich Brussow, who misses out after sampling international rugby on the end-of-year tour and then moving his game up an eye-catching notch or two for the otherwise inferior Cheetahs.

Also, Luke Watson, who “fetched” from No 8 arguably more impressively than Burger did for the Stormers in the more customary shirt, the young Bulls tearaway Deon Stegmann and the two Sharks pocket battleships, Messrs Botes and Daniel.

There is even a solid core of approval in the Big Smoke and beyond for the qualities of big-hearted Lions captain Cobus Grobbelaar.

All of these men are probably instinctively quicker to the breakdown than the incumbent Springbok No 6 although, of course, Burger brings several other attributes to the party and, at the very least, he deserves a start in the first Test in Durban to remind of his overall value.

But it still seems strange than in a 14-man forward cupboard, there is no place on the shelf – even if just to keep Schalk on his toes – for any of them.

The other area of some eccentricity is fullback: the ultra-cynical might peruse the squad and inquire “fullback? Er, what fullback?”

Remarkably, you see, there is no room for any South African who stood routinely in the last line of defence for his franchise in the Super 14, even granted that Conrad Jantjes was the victim of a horrible late-campaign leg-break.

Zane Kirchner and Stefan Terblanche have cause to feel peeved and we are left to guess now which of Jaque Fourie, JP Pietersen, Frans Steyn or Earl Rose will occupy this rather important post – without the benefit of any prolific recent exposure there - against the Lions.

Or has coach De Villiers got any other surprises up his sleeve? Bryan Habana at No 15, maybe, with Jongi Nokwe at No 11 in what would be a marvellously fleet-footed but intriguingly risky back three?

Or what about the theory that either of the industrious Ndunganes (the Sharks’ Odwa has cracked the nod) could grace fullback comfortably?

Scrumming aficionados will not be universally happy about the tighthead prop arsenal, which is limited to the already much-discussed captain John Smit, joined now by that seasoned utility man Deon Carstens.

There is no room at the right-shoulder inn for the specialist Jannie du Plessis or CJ van der Linde, although in the latter’s case his niggling injuries would have swayed the selectors’ thinking.

So those are some areas that could be open to very fierce scrutiny.

But my tempering advice to any critics planning to pour vitriol on the brains trust’s choices is this: first pause to consider the array of positions that are so sublimely and sensibly staffed as to potentially quash most fears about the others.
Lock and centre are certainly two of them, don’t you think?

This squad is a bit of a minestrone soup, and when you get it out of the microwave and slurp it you experience some cold patches in it. Yet also within the broth, thank goodness, do lie some chunky pieces of agreeably prime beef...


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