Rugby Championship

Eben v Flip healthy Bok poser

2012-09-17 11:53
Eben Etzebeth (Gallo)
Cape Town – Amidst mounting criticism over other aspects of his formula, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer can at least grapple with one pleasant dilemma ahead of the next Castle Rugby Championship match against Australia at Loftus in just under two weeks.

Eben Etzebeth or Flip van der Merwe for the No 4 lock spot? As things stand, it looks like a bit of a “win-win” sort of predicament.

Etzebeth becomes available again for the Pretoria fixture after serving what effectively amounted to a one-match suspension for his apparent head-butt on the Wallabies’ veteran second-rower Nathan Sharpe, now their acting captain again after Will Genia’s knee-injury misfortune.

Clearly Meyer, like so many other people, sees the astonishingly still only 20-year-old Stormers combatant as a special investment for a new Bok era, and has fielded him more or less unceasingly in his maiden full first-class season.

He was also having a prominent personal game ahead of his Perth ding-dong.

Etzebeth’s offence (there is still no certainty that he actually made contact with Sharpe, who reacted theatrically) has broadly been considered more “forgivable” than the subsequent Dean Greyling face-smash on All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.

But at the same time Meyer has re-emphasised in the wake of the second flashpoint his insistence on sound discipline.

He may just wish to underline that by restricting Etzebeth to the bench at Loftus and letting him loose again at a more advanced stage of the contest as a small further signal of disapproval for hot-headedness.

If he did so, it would be comforted by the knowledge that Bulls lock Van der Merwe played arguably his best Test match as a starting component – he has only done so four times in earning 18 caps thus far – and was part of a Bok pack who, collectively, slightly edged the engine-room duel in Dunedin.

Van der Merwe claimed a few lineouts, had a high tackle count, and added his beefy presence to the South African superiority in the physical stakes.

It was also illuminating to see the 27-year-old, who has a bit of a reputation for being a penalty liability and is no complete stranger to the yellow card, go about his work with supremely controlled, constructive aggression.

Of course these things are subjective, but for the record Van der Merwe, Francois Louw and Adriaan Strauss topped the Bok ratings out of 10 on the Sport24 scorecard with tallies of seven each from the frustrating 21-11 loss at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

My money, nevertheless, is probably on Etzebeth returning straight to the second row – where Meyer may, incidentally, still be less than entirely clear in his mind over which of Juandre Kruger or Andries Bekker more deserves the “athletic” No 5 shirt – but with the knowledge that the more experienced Van der Merwe has sounded out fresh credentials impressively.

And that can only be a good thing, can’t it?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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