Rugby Championship

Boks: It’s very close to chaos

2016-09-11 17:28
Allister Coetzee (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – The Springboks are currently flying, if that is even the right word to employ, like a jumbo jet on one engine, with a loose set of flaps and wheels jammed at the halfway point of deployment.

In other words, at considerable risk of a catastrophic crash.

Can YOU name the parts in the assembly of the national team that remotely suggest stability, security, comfort?

I know I can’t … and this with the champagne-quality All Blacks, fresh off a 57-22, eight-tries-to-one dismantling of Argentina looming so ominously in Christchurch on Saturday.

It’s scary that for generous portions of the game against the Pumas, the gutsy visitors were competitive and resilient, and even managed to rattle the world champions at times. Yet when the chips were down, New Zealand suddenly found their magic touch to close out the game majestically and clinically.

Just as galling to South Africans, but not at all far from the truth, was past Bok Errol Tobias’s assertion in Rapport on Sunday that the spine of the Pumas team may currently be stronger than the Springbok one. Yes, that’s once-minnow Argentina!

Yet the Boks limp onward, from their 23-17 loss to Australia in Brisbane, to a date with the All Blacks outfit that has already crushed the Wallabies twice in recent weeks.

If SA can somehow win in Christchurch under present circumstances, it might go down as one of their greatest upset triumphs of all time; at least that’s some sort of motivation, although bookies are unlikely to be fooled as they assemble their forecasts.

Confusion reigns supreme … these Boks look devoid of structure, clear-cut strategy, cutting edge and composure, and also just beginning to flirt with a potential post-isolation record low for tangible individual class and aura in the ranks, quite frankly.

Here’s an impromptu examination of the sickly state of affairs, across the berths:

Back three

This was arguably one of the Boks’ better areas in Brisbane … but that is also saying so very little. Bryan Habana is past his vintage best, but they still need his vast experience and big heart and engine, by my book. The other two berths, of course, are made up of players more familiar with other positions … so opponents are sure to plan cunningly with that strongly in mind. Johan Goosen showed slight improvement at fullback, though I believe he warrants a crack at more familiar No 10 now. Francois Hougaard brings tenacity, if not a whole lot else, and as a trio they just look a tad lightweight (and lacking aerial authority, too?) for the explosive likes of Julian Savea and company among the NZ outside-back division … 

Midfield

If, as we pretty much have to, we are to regard mediocrity as something to cling to gratefully right now, then the new pairing of Juan de Jongh and Jesse Kriel were plucky enough against Australia, and largely avoided error. But if Goosen is considered for the problematic, yet key flyhalf spot in Christchurch, Kriel may be required to shift from centre to the No 15 vacancy, potentially facilitating a return to the outside channel for Lionel Mapoe, who may have been unlucky to be dropped in Brisbane anyway. Meanwhile the clamour for Lions powerhouse (though he’s definitely not only about brawn) Rohan Janse van Rensburg will only intensify, and understandably so. You have to think, and hope, he’ll come into the mix for the home Tests against the Wallabies and All Blacks. 

The halfback pairing

Nick Mallett spoke post-Suncorp of too many players in supposedly direction-bringing jerseys (two, eight, nine, 10 and 12) being “quiet” … in other words, not hugely imposing themselves, hence overall Bok bluntness. I believe the situation has become especially acute at scrumhalf and flyhalf, where Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies are undoubtedly gifted but both damagingly naïve in game management, as things stand, as internationals. Embattled Allister Coetzee isn’t wrong when he says this will only improve with experience, but time is not exactly a generous ally as the Boks flounder so badly. I recommend at least some kind of bag-shake here for Saturday. (The ridiculously peripheral Rudy Paige at No 9? Or an older, possibly wiser Hougaard getting a fresh crack there?) If a change is deemed necessary at flyhalf, where Jantjies still looks mentally brittle in a Test shirt, then Goosen, as mentioned, would be my preferred go-to.    

Loose forwards

The Louw-Mohoje-Whiteley alliance was fair in Brisbane. Louw and Whiteley both upped their games from Salta, which is something. But none look resolutely anchored-down in their berths, either … and remember that SA is traditionally supposed to have quality loosies coming out of its ears! Mohoje has shown a willingness to tackle industriously, but also hasn’t displayed any special ball-carrying oomph for a blind-sider yet. And isn’t Jaco Kriel’s pace overdue for a maiden starting crack at No 6? The addition of Willem Alberts, just a little out of the blue, to the squad on Sunday seems a little odd: the now 32-year-old bruiser is a huge unit, potentially aiding “go-forward” at close quarters but even Heyneke Meyer had largely moved on from the injury-prone, Stade Francais-based Bone Collector by late last year. Maybe he’d be useful if Christchurch is a quagmire next weekend, but if not …

Locks

Negligible woes in this department … although some minor signs of creaking, nevertheless. Eben Etzebeth may well be slowly succumbing to fatigue, which is a concern given that he is one of desperately few present Boks sporting true world class. Partner Lood de Jager is sidelined for around a fortnight now after a knock to a knee – a pity, as second viewing of the Brisbane game (yes, call me a masochist) convinced me the the lanky No 5 was playing better than I gave him credit for in his mere 40 minutes, and only 32 of them at optimal fitness. There is still the reassuring presence of Pieter-Steph du Toit, bound to return to the XV this weekend, and Franco Mostert in the party.  

Front row

Sigh … yet another area marked more by fog than blue sky. The Boks couldn’t dominate even the relatively humdrum Aussie scrum, which is a bit of an indictment on start-out props Tendai Mtawarira and Lourens Adriaanse. The former shockingly clings to his starting berth, despite being innocuous in all respects throughout the Test season to this point; not a patch on the force of a few years ago. Mind you, against Oz Steven Kitshoff didn’t have his best scrum-time outing as a substitute. In fairness to new tighthead Adriaanse, his starting debut wasn’t all bad, so he just about deserves retention for the All Blacks despite the Bok management missing a trick terribly with their axing of Vincent Koch. The hooker situation stays deeply troublesome: captain Adriaan Strauss showed glimpses of his truer abilities at last in Brisbane, but a dangerous void is also being created for when he quits at year’s end, because Bongi Mbonambi gets only fleeting minutes of opportunity here and there and other squad man Malcolm Marx absolutely zilch yet.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

NEXT ON SPORT24X

LIVE: Boks v Wallabies

2016-09-30 14:14

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