Daniel: Great step by Heyneke

2012-08-15 14:48
Cape Town – They used to say that Corne Krige, a Springbok toughie always prepared to punch above his division, would have to smuggle weights into his underwear to convince certain national coaches of the past that he just about reached the three-figure mark in kilogram terms.

You suspect that Keegan Daniel, of the current Bok crop, falls into roughly the same league as a loose forward ... yes, you guessed it, if the just-issued Springbok media guide for the Castle Rugby Championship is to be believed, the Sharks marauder officially tips the scale smack on 100kg.

Daniel was confirmed on Wednesday as earning his first start for South Africa – after three prior caps off the bench -- in Saturday’s opening encounter with Argentina at Newlands, replacing stalwart No 8 Pierre Spies who has rather suddenly been ruled out of the tournament.

The difference between the men could hardly be more striking: Spies (109kg, 1.94m) is a notably tall and muscular beast who fits the tradition of his Super Rugby franchise, the Bulls, for fielding especially sturdy physical specimens in their pack.

At a diminutive 1.85m, by contrast, the Sharks captain hardly fits that mould ... which makes his presence on Saturday a true breath of fresh air.

After all, Bok coach Heyneke Meyer, for so long a key string-puller at Loftus, already has it on record pretty unapologetically that he favours his loosies to be collectively brawny individuals.

His easy, fallback option, if you like, since the sidelining of Spies would have been simply to shift bruising blindsider Willem Alberts to No 8 and reintroduce Jacques Potgieter, another wrecking ball, at No 7 – where he made his debut satisfactorily enough in the dead-rubber Test against England at Port Elizabeth in late June.

It would have maintained the Boks’ own characteristic for beefy, gung-ho packs with a general penchant for smashing through opponents rather than darting deftly around them.

But, admittedly partly engineered by the fate of Spies’s lead-up misfortune, Meyer has instead taken a commendably progressive step by summoning the tearaway Daniel.

The move is a tantalising one because it swiftly, simultaneously gives the Boks a potential new dimension in attacking play – certainly one that could well enhance their quest to get a hatful of tries on Saturday against the Pumas, rookies of the competition.

Apart from throwing himself around in the tighter aspects of play in a manner belying his relative lack of bodyweight in Super Rugby this year, Daniel only underlined for eventual losing finalists the Sharks his cutting edge as a breakaway whippet and excellent link man in hand-to-hand play, where he offers skills and vision virtually on a par with some renowned outside backs.

There is also a particularly nice synergy to various Bok positional combinations now: Argentina will come up against an all-Sharks front row and loose trio, a Stormers lock combo and a Bulls alliance at halfback.

“I did think about Jacques at blindside and just moving Willem to eight, giving you two ball-carriers,” Meyer confessed – a move which some critics might, with some justification, have branded a comfort-zone one ideologically by the new mastermind.

“But Keegan has been playing really well in Super Rugby, perhaps the form No 8 there, he knows the rest of the pack and has been putting up his hand.

“So although it’s a big setback experience-wise with Pierre, I think Keegan is a logical choice and I am really looking forward to seeing him play.

“It’s a step up, and I have been honest with him in saying he has to prove himself and see what he can do at eight. He’s got an X-factor about him, (offsetting) what you may lose in physicality.

“I think he could have a great game.”

That will be the wish too, no doubt, of many observers who have harboured ongoing fears that Spies just plays too fitfully, whether at Super Rugby or Test level, with a few seconds of barnstorming brilliance often followed or preceded by disturbing periods of relative anonymity.

Meyer did admit to Sport24 that he has been gradually deprived, for various reasons, of a number of strong back-of-the-lineout men, considering that he cannot currently call on any of Spies, Ryan Kankowski or Juan Smith, for example.

“Yes, the guys you have mentioned are all world-class jumpers. Pierre has been there for 50 Tests and Ryan was brilliant (in that department) towards the end of Super Rugby. Juan Smith is one of the very best so that’s three great guys you have lost. But Keegan is also a quality jumper, don’t forget.”

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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