Johannesburg – Coach Heyneke Meyer’s proactive use of his
substitutes was one of the essential reasons that the Springboks lifted their
second-half game to win the first Test against England in Durban.
GALLERY: Springboks v England: Match-ups
More of the same, therefore, can be expected here this
Saturday, as he continues his likely strong emphasis at Coca-Cola Park on the
bench being more than just relief elements for tired legs, but key components
in maintaining or even enhancing momentum.
He has already dropped hints here and there this week that
he will not be shy to make tactical switches during the second Test, which sees
his charges aiming to secure the series in favourable high-altitude conditions
ahead of the final encounter in Port Elizabeth.
Certainly England are fully aware, too, of the “no mercy”
plans the Boks harbour through creative use of their reserve players.
Recalled flyhalf Toby Flood, for instance, spoke on Thursday
of the vast array of players in the Springbok backline capable of executing
kicking plans – either off the tee or out of hand – ruthlessly.
“And then you’ve got someone like Ruan Pienaar (the
designated but versatile scrumhalf reserve on Saturday) who doesn’t do much
wrong with his boot either,” he said, hardly containing his admiration.
Once more, Ulster-based Pienaar may be summoned to the fray
with a meaningful amount of time left in the Test, especially if Francois
Hougaard’s kicking game comes up a little short – something that occurred at Mr
Price Kings Park.
Collectively, though, expect the Bok bench to bristle with
anticipation and energy: all of Pienaar, hooker Adriaan Strauss, loose forward
Keegan Daniel, lock Flip van der Merwe and front-ranker Coenie Oosthuizen only
enhanced their credentials in Durban, and will aim to continue that trend even
if the last-named player is sadly ruled out this time by injury.
In his place, Bulls tighthead prop Werner Kruger has a fresh
chance to consolidate his own rights to international status.
Though infinitely more familiar with No 3 chores, he is
slowly getting more accustomed to bursts of activity on the loosehead side when
needed, even if it is likelier he will swap places with Jannie du Plessis – who
has been carrying niggles – than Beast Mtawarira during the second Test.
Kruger’s work-rate in
the tight-loose is seldom in question, but he could do with a powerhouse
showing at scrum-time if he is to stay close to Test plans for South Africa.
As for Wynand Olivier, he may not be Meyer’s most popular
choice in countrywide terms for a role among the midfield reserves, but if he
gets on the park he could earn the opportunity to set right a rather traumatic
showing against muscle-man Manu Tuilagi when the Boks lost to Leicester Tigers
Another reason for the bench, as a whole, to want to assert
themselves if given the opportunity is that Meyer may face a reasonably
pleasant selection dilemma should the Boks clinch the series here.
Perhaps raising that topic is a case of dangerously putting
cart before horse at this point, but the fact remains that in this season of
extraordinarily demanding workloads for many players, there may be a case for
at least a minor degree of “rotation” or even experimentation should South
Africa go safely 2-0 up and out of reach ahead of the trip to the Eastern Cape.
And although the national cause obviously comes first during
what is deceptively called the “Test window” – it gives a false impression of
fresh breezes and rejuvenation! – let’s just say that the respective coaches of
the Bulls and Stormers would not object one bit if the odd Springbok
first-teamer from those franchises got a break of some kind in Port Elizabeth.
Both these title-aspirant teams get straight back into Super
Rugby action after the England series, whilst Sharks-based Boks arguably cry
out less for a breather as they get one straight after the Test series is over
anyway: that team has a bye at the end of June when hostilities resume.
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