Who’ll work on floor for Boks?
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The Springboks have put out some particularly heavy rollers for their World Cup Pool D meeting with limited neighbours Namibia at North Harbour on Thursday.
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Clearly the intention is to simply stampede the desert warriors up front, to the point that they won’t see much of the ball themselves and a contest for turnovers on the deck will thus be rendered pretty irrelevant.
At least that seems to be the plan, but if it somehow goes awry then running up a “cricket score” may not be guaranteed, because a notably upright, ball-carrying pack was named on Monday.
Indeed, the Boks had better hope that Namibia don’t get the sort of unexpected possession and territorial foothold that fellow-minnows Georgia did in their fighting performance against 2007 finalists England in another group at the weekend.
The Bok starting XV, you see - sporting five changes from the side which emerged from the tunnel against Fiji - is not ideally equipped for stealth in the breakdown department.
Then again, remedies will not be far away because the bench, just a little strangely, contains both of the squad’s designated open-side flanks in Heinrich Brüssow and Francois Louw.
Giving Brüssow, such a vital element of the Bok bid to retain the Webb Ellis Cup, a partial role at best on this occasion makes a lot of sense, but I had expected the Boks to field Louw, who is in chronic need of a full match or close to it, in his place - that would be useful if Brüssow went down injured and the spotlight was suddenly to fall heavily on the Bath and ex-Stormers flanker.
Instead that imposing physical specimen Willem Alberts has been named in the No 6 jersey, although it may well be that Schalk Burger, who has been playing some inspired rugby at blind-side of late, is the main element playing to the ball at the outset on Thursday.
There is a case for saying the balance in the various positional combinations oughtn’t matter too much against Namibia, who lost 105-13 the last (and only previous) time they played the Boks - a warm-up meeting at Newlands ahead of the 2007 World Cup.
Burger scored a hat-trick of tries that evening, among the 15 dotted down by South Africa.
The blond flank will be among four Bok “survivors” from that occasion who will operate at North Harbour: the others are Jaque Fourie, Bakkies Botha and CJ van der Linde, the last-named player getting his first RWC 2011 start as tighthead anchorman Jannie du Plessis is among some stalwarts rested.
Some combinations are shrewdly kept intact for continuity purposes following the generally acclaimed 49-3 victory over Fiji, like the midfield alliance of Fourie and Frans Steyn and lock pairing of Botha and in-form Danie Rossouw.
Perhaps the most significant selection - although it is foolhardy sometimes to read too much into picks for a task against obviously lower-tier foes - is that of Francois Hougaard at scrumhalf ahead of veteran Fourie du Preez.
The 59-capper has been one standout from the 2007 success not to fire on all cylinders yet for the Boks in 2011, so maybe there is a bit of a deliberate “wake-up call” involved in his curtailment to the bench.
Personally, I still suspect that Hougaard will have to play out of his skin, and then some, if he is to displace Du Preez for bigger encounters down the line, but if this effervescent, adaptable character does deliver the goods in a green jersey again - and for once in a starting role - he may at least cause some serious head-scratching in a few days’ time.
If the “class is permanent” theory is going to be kept strongly in mind, Du Preez will still have a big say in Springbok health later in the tournament …
15 Pat Lambie, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Willem Alberts, 5 Danie Rossouw, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 CJ van der Linde, 2 John Smit (captain), Gurthro Steenkamp.
Substitutes: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Francois Louw, 19 Heinrich Brüssow, 20 Fourie du Preez, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Juan de Jongh.
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