Rugby Championship

Sorry, these Boks look motley crew

2016-09-08 14:20
Francois Louw (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - It’s an invitation to prove me well wide of the mark, and the Australians’ own insecurity has to be factored in as a beacon for hope on Saturday, but the latest Springbok starting XV has a palpably pot-luck feel to it.

Far from looking like a combo beginning to gel after five Tests under the tutelage of the Allister Coetzee regime, I have an inescapable thought that the wallpaper is instead peeling; that the Boks may even be flirting with a lurch back toward the indecisiveness and results trauma of the Rudolf Straeuli era.

In defence of the personable head coach, his 2016 charges haven’t yet shown major signs of unravelling in scoreboard terms – remember they haven’t run into any real global heavyweight yet; that’s a further week up the line – to the nauseating extent some Straeuli teams did.

The wretched 3-53 against England at Twickenham in 2002 and 16-52 against the All Blacks at Loftus a few months later rapidly induce shivers.

There have been no outcomes remotely like those ... yet. When the Boks have lost (Ireland at Newlands, Argentina at Salta) they’ve been close, though all three victories this year have also been of the nerve-wracking, grind-it-out variety.

If little else, the present Boks do boast a certain grim tenacity, although such qualities are not guaranteed to be sustainable when more desirable ones - such as consistent territorial dominance, physical mastery, skill, guile and a clear game-plan - are so difficult to meaningfully detect.

Is there any compelling reason to feel optimistic that the Boks, sporting a particularly reshuffled, makeshift-looking backline for this Castle Rugby Championship date (Brisbane, 12:05 SA time), are suddenly on the cusp of clicking?

I just feel that the starting XV - still featuring a mystifying tally of customers who have underwhelmed for all or very generous chunks of the Test season thus far -- shows some “repairs” in wrong areas which might only cloud matters further, rather than provide overdue shafts of sunlight.

Elton Jantjies, Francois Louw, Tendai Mtawarira, the captain Adriaan Strauss ... all of these are potentially influential internationals, but have flat-lined stubbornly on a low level this year. The experienced last-named trio have particularly disappointed at a time when they should be showing certain novices the way, whilst the complex Jantjies exudes only doubt-laden body language in the key flyhalf berth.

In fairness to Coetzee, he deserves some salaams for his patient perseverance with the Lions pivot: but if ever there was a need for Jantjies to finally transfer his Super Rugby form and talent to the Test arena, that time is surely now – or arguably even should have expired a fortnight back in Argentina?

The dogged retention of Louw, Mtawarira and the now known want-away Strauss is well less fathomable, as sprightly alternatives like Jaco Kriel and Steven Kitshoff remain curtailed to the bench. Meanwhile, and at the risk of sounding like a tired old drum, that confrontational competitor and herculean breakdown and mauling workhorse Bismarck du Plessis remains ignored at his distant French base.

There are others on the substitutes list for Saturday who I feel should instead be starting; they include Pieter-Steph du Toit and Lionel Mapoe.

It is true that the latter has not exactly grasped his outside centre opportunities with both hands, including making one or two critical, Bok try-denying errors, but he has also paid a cruel price now for the lack of imagination and direction from berths inside him that have done him no favours.

Mapoe needs to be cork-screwed cleverly through gaps; those holes simply haven’t been chiselled out for him, only dulling his major attributes.

But if the Lions midfielder has had a raw deal, even worse, by my estimation, applies to Vincent Koch, the explosive tighthead prop who, only two matches after he provided major value at Nelspruit, suddenly finds himself surplus to match-day requirements entirely.

Instead Lourens Adriaanse, though seldom regularly commanding the Sharks’ No 3 jersey since his switch there from Bloemfontein three seasons back, has earned a dubiously meteoric rise to a maiden start – he is nothing like as effective as Koch as a ball-carrier and even his scrumming, frankly, may be earning stronger salutes from some sources than he actually warrants.

Bok front-row mediocrity had been coming far more routinely from loosehead prop and hooker during 2016. Instead the bag has been vigorously shaken at tighthead; go figure.

I also have a nasty suspicion that South Africa are in proper trouble if, perish the thought, the specialist Adriaanse were to suffer an early injury at Suncorp Stadium ... for all his potential as he is gently groomed for the cares of the “right shoulder” side of the scrum, when last did Trevor Nyakane, not always the best-conditioned of behemoths, get through even an hour of competitive rugby?

Meanwhile, in hardly the finest signal that the Boks are truly desirous of a brave new attacking template, they have named a bench featuring only two back-liners - and one of them is Morne Steyn, not exactly a renowned thrill-factor option if the national side find themselves requiring late daredevil to force a victory.

While the presence of gratifying surnames like Etzebeth, Habana and one or two others points otherwise (and there is regrettable absence through injury of players like Messrs Vermeulen, Malherbe, Lambie, Pollard and Combrinck), a year or so ago I would have been deeply tempted to assume that the Bok XV named for this date for the Wallabies actually veers closer in character toward some sort of SA ‘A’ side.

If they play like one on Saturday, maybe even the near-abject Aussies will eke out this one …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  rugby championship  |  rugby
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