Rugby Championship

Boks field few 'scarred' men

2013-09-04 14:00
Bryan Habana (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The Springboks traditionally faring so poorly in Brisbane, the “Durban” of Australia if you like, is one of life’s little mysteries.

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Little wonder then that the Wallabies, under big pressure for a Test win after three defeats on the trot this year, relish dragging the South Africans to Suncorp Stadium as often as they can these days: Saturday’s Castle Rugby Championship match (12:05 SA time) will be the third bilateral meeting there in only five years.

So it is probably no bad thing that the Bok side announced on Wednesday - as expected, bringing Bismarck du Plessis, Flip van der Merwe and Zane Kirchner back into the starting mix - will contain a relatively low stock of personnel haunted by memories of previous thumpings in the muggy Queensland city.

I say “thumpings” because they have undeniably been that: in four encounters since Suncorp had its modernisation some 10 years ago, South Africa have lost 30-13 (2010), 21-6 (2009), 49-0 (2006) and 29-9 (2003) - none even close - and not won in the metropolis as a whole since 1971 at the Exhibition Ground.

Fortunately the Boks will only field four players - Kirchner, Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn and Ruan Pienaar - with mostly unpleasant personal memories of the last outcome in 2010.

Just as comfortingly, only Habana, an 88-cap veteran of the Bok cause who has had enough dizzy highs and debilitating lows not to be too spooked by the location for this Test match anyway, was part of that “video nasty” of 2006, when Jake White’s outfit crashed by a record score and humiliating six tries to nil.

That was a real nadir of the Springbok timeline, of course - although never forget that little more than a year later a certain John Smit was triumphantly lifting the William Webb Ellis Cup in Paris and the world seemed wonderful anew.

Suncorp Stadium has also been largely a graveyard for South African teams in Super Rugby: in 2013 visits there by the Bulls and Sharks to tackle the Reds, for example, they left with tails between their legs after respective 23-18 and 32-17 defeats.

But if there is one glimmer of hope for the Boks to break their Brisbane bogey, perhaps it comes through examination of Super Rugby events just last year - when as many as two SA sides in three attempts (only the Lions slipped up) finally earned some overdue Suncorp cheer for our country.

First the Stormers won an ordinary-season clash with the Reds 23-13 in April 2012, and then in a July finals series qualifier, the Sharks also raided Brisbane quite stirringly for a 30-17 result in their favour.

The Stormers team had included current Bok squad members Duane Vermeulen (who led them on the day), Eben Etzebeth, Habana (he played in the rare slot for him of outside centre) and Saturday substitute Siya Kolisi.

Meanwhile the Sharks’ Suncorp feat a few weeks later included key input from the front row of Beast Mtawarira and brothers Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis - all of whom have been reunited in the starting SA front row for Saturday’s challenge - whilst Willem Alberts also savoured that occasion.

So it not as though various Bok players taking to the park this weekend are completely unfamiliar with party-spoiling achievement at the venue ... and jinxes are only there to be broken anyway, aren’t they?

Of course the really significant alteration to the Bok XV, from the team which struggled to a 22-17 win against Argentina in Mendoza, was the highly-debated return of safe but unspectacular Kirchner to the fullback berth, which many critics and fans are viewing as a fall-back to Flintstones territory by Heyneke Meyer.

In many ways it also seems a dead giveaway to rival coach Ewen McKenzie about the intended, conservative game-plan to be employed by the Boks on this occasion, although if South Africa win and also do so deservedly, Meyer’s pragmatism might come to be branded a Midas touch.

Nor is it as though the unpredictable talisman Willie le Roux has been culled from the mix: he simply shifts to a wing berth and there may even be one or two surprise opportunities for him to get involved in attacking plays as a “libero”, not unlike the method the Cheetahs employed in Super Rugby for him to keep opponents guessing.

For the record, a personal choice for No 15 would have staunchly remained Pat Lambie, someone who arguably bridges the game-style divide quite nicely between bamboozler Le Roux and safety-first banker Kirchner.

But let’s give Kirchner some advance credit: he will hardly be running out onto Suncorp with the firm intention of proving his battery of knockers justified, will he?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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