Bench to ride to Boks’ rescue?

2012-09-12 11:02
Cape Town – Well, we know for sure that the Springboks aren’t going to pitch up, at least from the outset, at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday (09:35 SA time) intending to win any beauty contest.

Pragmatism tilted the selection thinking of coach Heyneke Meyer on Wednesday, which probably comes as little surprise for the formidable challenge of the All Blacks in the Castle Rugby Championship.

It is clear that the Boks are going to try to hang in grimly – the Afrikaans equivalent in this instance might well be “knyp”? -- and pray for an opening of some kind, rather than venture forth with a deep-rooted gambler’s spirit.

To the mounting lobby who believe the national side’s brains trust is averse to any meaningful evolution, the retention in the influential positions of fullback and flyhalf of Zane Kirchner and Morne Steyn respectively is a sure signal that efficiency will once again supersede “flash”.

Already the naysayers are out in force: he may be a particularly prolific critic in the Twitter-sphere, but former thrill-factor Bok flank Rob Louw (@roblouw6) would have summed up the feelings of many when he observed: “At this stage our love and support for our beloved Boks is being tested. Might just go 4 a surf.”

The backline is entirely unaltered from the combination who at least created (yet in some key instances also butchered) a handful of fairly promising scoring opportunities in the defeat to Australia last time out.

Ja, well, no, fine.

In the pack, meanwhile, there are two changes, with Flip van der Merwe for the in-form but moderately disgraced Eben Etzebeth at lock predictable if less than wholly assuring, and provision at last for someone pretty closely resembling a specialist open-side flank: Francois “Flo” Louw of Bath.

Unfortunately what the call-up of Louw (and it is to be lauded) to the starting XV means is that the Boks are also sacrificing, for the first time this season, emerging young Marcell Coetzee, instead of accommodating him elsewhere in the loose trio.

The Sharks player, while he lasted, was often the one Bok loose forward in 2012 thus far with some credentials as a “stepper” and potential advantage line-breaker.

A newly-assembled combo of Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen should not play second fiddle to their All Black opposite numbers for pure muscularity, but there’s also no Ferrari in that particular three-berth stable to speak of, is there?

Overall, then, the team assembled strongly suggests that the Bok intention, however dubious is may sound to plenty of supporters, is to try to drag the New Zealanders into an uncompromising scrap, potentially suffocating their own, usually greater desire for ball-in-hand flamboyance.

You have to say this in Meyer’s defence: his picks have certainly been influenced in some ways by a cruel list of kingpin absentees, as well as lingering doubts about the fitness and/or fatigue levels of certain elements within the overall touring squad.

That may be one reason for Coetzee, for instance, suddenly finding himself in an impact capacity among the substitutes.

And on that theme – the bench – there is arguably cause for some hope.

For if things are going pear-shaped after the first 40 minutes or so on Saturday, at least the coach’s reserve arsenal does provide several elements of dynamism if the Boks suddenly decide to ditch conservatism and genuinely “have a go”.

You would expect Coetzee to come out snorting if he gets an opportunity (as doubtless he will), plus in the towering form of Andries Bekker – though should he have started, to try to cause chaos at lineout time? – comes someone who, for all his flaws and near-constant niggles, is not incapable of putting in a 40-yard charge at a rate of knots.

Even more enticingly, a backline reserve cupboard of impatient, game-shy Pat Lambie, the slippery, jinking Juan de Jongh and flyhalf wunderkind-in-the-making Johan Goosen seems to have rich potential for second-half “sting”.

Let’s just hope the horse hasn’t bolted by then.

Teams:

New Zealand:

TBA

South Africa:

15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Andries Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira

Substitutes: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Dean Greyling, 18-Andries Bekker, 19 Marcell Coetzee, 20 Johan Goosen, 21 Juan de Jongh, 22 Pat Lambie

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you think the Springbok bench can bail out the team on Saturday against the All Blacks in Dunedin? Send your thoughts to Sport24.

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