Flip on high alert for Boks
Flip van der Merwe (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - It is apparently some 10 years, an era just preceding Victor Matfield
’s virtual ever-presence, since there was a complete absence of Bulls players from a start-out Springbok pack.
But that will be the case on Saturday when South Africa tackle Argentina in the Castle Rugby Championship opener at Newlands, featuring an all-Sharks front row and loose trio and the Stormers pairing of Eben Etzebeth
and Andries Bekker
Earlier this week, the Loftus franchise seemed sure to still have at least one representative in the shape of regular No 8 Pierre Spies
, but then his injury ruled him out of the tournament.
Throw in the fact that Bekker has been preferred to Juandré Kruger for the No 5 jersey, and Bulls fans’ only consolation is three backline representatives in the form of Zane Kirchner, Morné Steyn and Francois Hougaard
But there is further comfort in the fact that Flip van der Merwe and Jacques Potgieter will be available off the bench - with the former, in particular, clearly primed for at least some second-half involvement against the Pumas.
This is because coach Heyneke Meyer
admitted at the team announcement on Wednesday that Etzebeth, the 20-year-old who has become so valuable to the cause at No 4 in a short space of time, “is not quite 100 percent fit (so) there’s a bit of a question mark”.
He said it was unfortunate omitting Kruger entirely from the match-day 22, after his full involvement in the recent England series.
Bekker and niggling back injuries are often synonymous, but in this particular instance it seems the Bok management are slightly less concerned about his readiness right now than that of his starting partner, and Van der Merwe is better suited to an Etzebeth-type role.
Meyer said: “It was a tough call there because it would have probably been easier having Juandré on the bench because you always want a five guy who can cover the lineouts and Juandré has really proved himself: I said as much to him.
“I told him it was simply a case of giving Andries a chance; that I didn’t actually ‘drop’ him (in the truest sense of the word) but wanted to see what Andries can do - and then probably stick with the best (of the two) going forward.
“But I always felt, too, that Flip brings something different off the bench; he’s been brilliant (in that capacity against England) and he was the obvious choice given Eben’s situation.”
Van der Merwe, whose 120kg also provides handy bulk if it is needed for scrums as the match develops, already boasts 14 Bok caps although he seldom starts for his country.
On that score, Meyer re-emphasised that he wanted the Boks to gradually return to their scrummaging reputation of old.
“I felt that at one stage our scrum had ceased to become as dominant as it used to be. But England have a very good scrumming pack and I thought at times in that series, especially the first Test, that we really fared well there.
“We know that Argentina have always had a very strong scrum as well - basically having a full front row on their bench doesn’t make it easier and even their hooker (Eusebio Guinazu) is actually a prop. So we need to be at our best.”
15. Zane Kirchner, 14. Bryan Habana
, 13. Jean de Villiers (captain), 12. Frans Steyn
, 11. Lwazi Mvovo
, 10. Morné Steyn, 9. Francois Hougaard
, 8. Keegan Daniel
, 7. Willem Alberts
(The Sharks, 6. Marcell Coetzee
, 5. Andries Bekker
, 4. Eben Etzebeth
, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16. Adriaan Strauss
, 17. Pat Cilliers, 18. Flip van der Merwe, 19. Jacques Potgieter, 20. Ruan Pienaar
, 21. Pat Lambie, 22. JJ EngelbrechtArgentina:
15 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Horacio Agulla; 10 Juan Martin Hernandez, 9 Nicolas Vergallo, 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (captain), 7 Alvaro Galindo, 6 Julio Farias Cabello, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Rodrigo Roncero
Substitutes: 16 Bruno Postiglioni, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Tomas Leonardi, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Martin Rodriguez*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing