Bok ‘old firm’ to face Wales?
Jaque Fourie (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - If Fourie du Preez has helped remind Springbok enthusiasts this year that class is permanent, then another Japan-based player in Jaque Fourie could well be fast-tracked straight back into the starting line-up against Wales in Cardiff in less than a fortnight.
That is when the Boks open their end-of-year tour account – a tough ask against the defending Six Nations champions on November 9 which could immediately provide a key pointer to the success or otherwise of the three-game mission as a whole.
Of course the ever-expectant South African public want nothing less than a 100 percent tour record (the Boks also face Scotland and France), an outcome that would emulate their northern hemisphere effort in 2012.
But the Welsh may prove the toughest nuts to crack in front of their noisy Millennium Stadium faithful and coach Heyneke Meyer – who on Monday confirmed the presence of the 30-year-old Fourie in his 32-man party – is sure to be seriously tempted to field the hugely proven midfielder at No 13 straight away for his 70th cap and first since the gut-wrenching, controversial 11-9 loss to Australia in the 2011 "Bryce Lawrence" World Cup quarter-final.
The Bok coach will doubtless examine Fourie’s conditioning and sharpness closely in the lead-up, but he hardly needs reminding of the player’s powerful leg-drive and slippery qualities on the attack and wonderful ability to marshal the troops defensively.
Some would consider it a little tough on the gradually emerging JJ Engelbrecht if the Kobelco Steelers customer does steal his outside centre berth, but a further feather in Fourie’s cap is his intimate knowledge of the playing style of Bok captain Jean de Villiers, a long-time partner at both international level and in Super Rugby for the Stormers.
It is an interesting thought that, if he wanted to, Meyer could reunite on this trip the entire Bok starting backline from that ill-fated RWC quarter-final: all of Pat Lambie (he played at fullback then), JP Pietersen, Fourie, De Villiers, Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn and Du Preez are in the travel party.
If Fourie does gain a swift ticket back to Test action in Cardiff – though it could just as feasibly be off the bench if Meyer fancies keeping his incumbent midfield intact – then it also raises the question of whether Bakkies Botha, another tough old hand making a comeback to the green and gold, shouldn’t similarly march straight into the second row.
That is less likely initially, for the simple reason that current No 4 lock Eben Etzebeth does not deserve to be sidelined as the youngster (22 on Tuesday) continues to produce Test performances of very highest quality.
In Botha’s case, he may get a more feasible starting look-in for game two against Scotland, when an opportunity perhaps looms for Meyer to rest one or two over-played stars of the gruelling 2013 season – there is only a six-day turnaround to the closing game against France, as the Murrayfield fixture is on a Sunday.
I would argue that another returning stalwart, long-striding right wing Pietersen, is also too good to keep on the sidelines, and this may mean that the back three who started against the All Blacks in the thrilling rollercoaster ride that was the Castle Rugby Championship decider a few weeks ago will have to be disturbed to accommodate him.
Should Meyer want to draft Pietersen straight in, the appealingly unpredictable Willie le Roux is probably going to be the casualty, even if he also offers possibilities at fullback where Zane Kirchner is nevertheless an old Meyer favourite – and in fairness his game is suited to the slower pitches of Europe where safety under the high ball and a decent kicking game are especially important.
The day a Bok coach picks a team or tour group that meets with unanimous public approval in South Africa is also the day Mars attack Earth, so the hysteria that has greeted certain selections in his broader mix was inevitable.
But the vast majority of his picks reflect his desire for continuity and stability, and if he has been irresistibly drawn to a few salty old seadogs, he has balanced things out by also rewarding hugely deserving domestic young standouts of 2013 like Scarra Ntubeni, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Frans Malherbe.
Considering the good number of players who offer versatile credentials, almost all positions are very strongly covered, the lone exception perhaps being No 8 where Duane Vermeulen is the only specialist.
But Willem Alberts can operate there in a time of crisis, and the relatively lean staffing for that particular jersey can also be attributed to the unavailability through injury of Bulls men Pierre Spies and Arno Botha.
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