New No 10, but new plan too?
Johan Goosen (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer appears to have crossed the Rubicon with his selection on Wednesday of a more multi-dimensional flyhalf in Johan Goosen ... but whether it also signals a fresh battle-plan will only be evidenced at Loftus on Saturday.VIDEO: Heyneke Meyer hails Morne Steyn - in the shower!
In confirming at a particularly keenly-awaited team announcement in Johannesburg that he has finally given up - at least for the time being - on the formulaic Morne Steyn in the No 10 jersey, Meyer also hinted at a seemingly logical tweak to the tactical approach by saying that he expected a more open Castle Rugby Championship Test against Australia (17:00 kick-off).
Or was that simply a bit of a red herring?
After all, he has long sworn by a template which encourages a heavy emphasis on in-field tactical kicking, and it is not out of the question that the 20-year-old wunderkind from the Cheetahs, Goosen, will still be asked to obey that sort of script to a fair extent.
And if the Boks are suddenly going to toss the ball around with dramatic abandon, the remainder of Meyer’s backline choices do not necessarily add up to a brave new world in creative and instinctive play.
It will not have escaped some sober critics’ minds, amidst the understandable fanfare of a fresh tenant in a massively game-influencing position, that Zane Kirchner, not exactly Mr Dancing Shoes in the fullback position, retains his spot.
The mini-dreadlocked Bulls customer is best renowned for his positional acumen on defence and ability to both gather and then return kicks; the really adventurous choice if the Boks were genuinely going to tear up Plan A would arguably have been Pat Lambie, who stays firmly among the substitutes and is slowly beginning to threaten Hanyani “Splinters” Shimange in the SA annals for boredom via pitch-side inactivity.
Indeed, Meyer could have done a lot worse than install the exciting, long-limbed Lions youngster, Jaco Taute, at No 15, although it is a welcome enough development that the versatile player is bracketed in midfield with No 12 incumbent Frans Steyn, still the subject of some fitness doubt in the lead-up to Loftus.
As for Juan de Jongh, he has reason to feel a little miffed at the knowledge that he will only slip back onto the Bok bench if Taute does get to start against the Wallabies.
De Jongh may still be quietly paying a price (though a notably defence-geared Stormers strategy hardly helped) for losing some of his lustre in snaky elusiveness during the last Super Rugby campaign.
Still, it is impossible for Springbok coaches to give every, opinionated member of the rugby public all the choices he or she wishes for, and at the very least Meyer will have quelled some of the rising dissent against his tenure by making the overdue flyhalf change.
Make no mistake, the Wallabies will be more concerned now about the likelihood that the Boks will begin to break down a reputation for predictability.
Of course it is one thing for someone like the still-raw Goosen to show promise in a brace of short stints as a second-half substitute in Test rugby; putting your stamp on a game from the outset can be more difficult to achieve.
But there is no shortage of backers for him to blossom, something illustrated in a Sport24 reader poll not long before the Montecasino team announcement - 53% of them urged his call-up, as opposed to a flimsy 9% for the struggling Steyn (in a field of four flyhalf options listed).
In a further nod to justice, Elton Jantjies, and not the downgraded Steyn, is the designated bench alternative at flyhalf just in case things go a bit pear-shaped - he does at least have greater first-class experience than Goosen and has been in consistently fine Currie Cup form.
Just as gratifying is that two key departments in a pack which got marginally the better of the All Black eight in a 21-11 defeat last time out - the loose forwards and front row - are unaltered for the Australian challenge at a ground where the Wallabies have never previously won.
There is some upheaval at lock, although the return from short suspension of No 4 Eben Etzebeth was anticipated and makes sense - he has been earmarked as a true investment and it is almost frightening to imagine what sort of physical beast he will be for the national cause in a year or two’s time.
The No 5 shirt remains more of a yo-yo affair: Etzebeth’s Stormers colleague Andries Bekker recaptures it from Juandre Kruger, who drops out of the match-day 22 but is likely to remain “thereabouts”.
Tall-timber Bekker has another opportunity to try to convince everyone that he is the correct pick to restore stability to a position once policed so imperiously and routinely by Victor Matfield.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing