Rugby Championship

Will Bok pack be spooked?

2014-09-01 12:13
Eben Etzebeth (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - When you hear the words “mental scarring” you most often associate them with gleeful use by hard-nosed cricket characters like Steve Waugh or Kepler Wessels.

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But the expression of vulnerability, most unusually, may be applicable to some elements of the Springbok pack as they go into battle with Australia in the Castle Rugby Championship in Perth on Saturday (12:05 SA time).

It could be just one reason why coach Heyneke Meyer, normally one who favours consistency, may ring several changes to his starting eight this week.

It has been speculated with all of Adriaan Strauss, Marcell Coetzee and fit-again ultra-veteran Victor Matfield will enter the starting mix against the Wallabies, with the first-named two promoted at least partly on the strength of late - and vital - excellence off the bench in the 33-31 heart-stopper against Argentina in Salta.

All those possible alterations have merit: but what sort of psychological state will the remaining members of the pack who started against the Pumas be in as they now face “bigger” foes Australia only a fortnight on?

Yes, we know that the Wallaby set-piece, and particularly the scrum, hasn’t exactly been a core strength for several years, so there is a pretty good chance that the Boks will achieve parity at the very minimum.

And that would at least be a baby step, if you like, back to more desirable, normal service.
But the possibility must exist that some forwards have been spooked by the undignified way they were either run backwards by the Bajada or left in a crumpled heap.

The feeling that brute strength at scrum-time will be a near-constant, enforcing element of Bok rugby is deeply embedded in the South African psyche, even if there have also been plenty of times before when the country has been exposed by smaller packs with much shrewder “technical” skills.

Some pundits say, and perhaps not without justification, that it was the worst pounding they’ve ever seen by a Bok eight in the department.

Just what did it feel like, for instance, for Jannie du Plessis, a gnarly stalwart and supposedly the Boks’ clear-cut supreme tighthead anchor man, to be forced so lamentably into retreat by the ferocity of the Argentinean scrummaging?

And what of a younger engine-roomer like Eben Etzebeth, the muscular and normally super-physical lock who is not used to taking back steps in any facet of play yet so often ended up that day flat on his back with a bunch of Pumas forwards acting as near-sadistic steamrollers above?

It is difficult to imagine that recovery from a battering like that can occur with any great haste, regardless of the merits or otherwise of the next opponents.

Will the Bok scrum be in an almighty, and angry, redemption mode at Patersons Stadium, or will they be involuntarily enveloped in self-doubt and insecurity after the nasty second-fiddle experience of Salta?

Also to bear in mind is the rightful concern expressed in some circles that - admittedly with injuries often a strong factor - the Boks have not fielded particularly settled tight fives in recent Test matches, which affects cohesion.

How the forwards are mentally nursed in the lead-up by coach Meyer and company, given the extent of what happened against the Pumas, could be just as important as how competently they may be pushing the scrum machine in training.

We are about to see, on Saturday, how quickly punctured egos can be patched ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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