Rugby Championship

Now Boks vulnerable for Euro tour

2016-09-13 12:52
Bismarck du Plessis stopped in his tracks... (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – It’s impossible to know whether he would have been reintroduced anyway, but the side-lining of imposing hooker Bismarck du Plessis for roughly the rest of the year sees the Springboks denied the services of another potentially very handy element for their northern hemisphere tour in a few weeks.

There is also a rising danger of the national side being left badly exposed for experience in an important position should any mishap in the remainder of the Test season rule out current captain and wearer of the No 2 jersey Adriaan Strauss, who retires from the international fray at the completion of 2016.

Apart from their remaining Castle Rugby Championship obligations, the Boks play Tests against England, Italy and Wales during November, with the first-named clash at Twickenham (Nov 12) already generating a fair amount of hype in the British media.

The stalwart Du Plessis, now based with Jake White’s Montpellier, boasts 79 Bok caps and even at his relatively advanced age of 32, still seemed a particularly attractive option for the annual northern trek, given his extra familiarity at first-class level with slow, grinding winter conditions in Europe now.

Currently, the Boks lack a bit in “grunt” and ability to stay consistently on the front foot and camped in favourable areas of the park, whilst Du Plessis is also a champion turnover-creator – another area where Allister Coetzee’s labouring charges aren’t exactly bossing foes despite some dubious protests to the contrary at times.

But it was reported on Monday that the robust competitor had torn a chest muscle, an injury ruling him out for up to three months, which also really means goodbye to any chance of Bok consideration for the rest of their 2016 agenda.

Bearing in mind that it is also not clear yet whether another seasoned, abrasive Bok forward, Toulon’s Duane Vermeulen, will be fit again from knee surgery in time for the Euro undertaking, South Africa are increasingly likely to tackle the tour – also featuring a Barbarians date – stripped of possible key figures in what could turn out to be “arm wrestles” in chilly, wet conditions.

But Bok coach Allister Coetzee is also under extra pressure now to grant more game-time to the two hookers below Strauss in the present squad pecking order, in case his embattled skipper is suddenly laid low himself.

Should that happen, next cabs off the rank Bongi Mbonambi – currently the Test bench hooker – and Malcolm Marx would be thrust into more frontline action with precious little (in the case of the sturdy Lions prospect none) knowledge of the demands at the premier level of the game.

Stormers front-rower Mbonambi has had two desperately short-lived gallops as a late substitute, including six minutes in the 23-17 reverse to Australia last Saturday when he managed to look zesty in open play before the final whistle blew.

As a mere 22-year-old, the Germiston-born Marx – widely considered a rookie version of Du Plessis physically -- could also benefit from at least some exposure to Tests before the end-of-year mission comes around.

Domestic-based additional possibilities at hooker for the Springboks are also that bit more limited for Coetzee and his advisors now, given the dreadful Achilles tendon rupture suffered in the Currie Cup by luckless SA ‘A’ hooker Scarra Ntubeni earlier this month – he will be out for what has ominously been described as “a long time”.

The situation raises just the possibility that the Boks may be tempted nearer the European trek to revisit the vastly experienced credentials of 35-year-old Saracens livewire Schalk Brits.

While an entirely different animal to someone like Du Plessis in playing style, he was part of the Boks’ World Cup 2015 squad in England, and although many will have felt he was among several customers the national team may well have “moved on from” in 2016, he has not officially retired, to Sport24’s knowledge, from Test activity after 10 caps stretching back to 2008.

Yet you still suspect that a better call might well be, in the longer-term interest, for the Boks to give a more meaningful crack against the world-leading All Blacks on Saturday to Mbonambi, at the very least …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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