Bok vulnerabilities to remain?
Cape Town – Expect South Africa to be able to field a
thoroughly competitive “first XV” but remain a little wanting for depth in
certain positions when coach Heyneke Meyer names a broad squad for the
fledgling Castle Rugby Championship at Worcester on Saturday afternoon.
That was the certainly the case in the generally satisfying
2-0 Test series triumph over England a few weeks ago, and the situation has
barely changed subsequently ... primarily because of the ongoing injuries
affecting such strong candidates as loose forwards Schalk Burger and Duane
Vermeulen, young flyhalf phenomenon Johan Goosen and the barnstorming Cheetahs
front-ranker Coenie Oosthuizen.
None are remotely ready for international activity yet,
although No 8 (and also possible blind-side flanker) Vermeulen is likely to be
in the Currie Cup mix very shortly for Western Province and thus in a position
to start re-staking Bok claims as rapidly as he can.
Given the likelihood that the majority of those players mentioned
seem unlikely to be available until the traditional end-of-year tour to the
northern hemisphere at the earliest, Meyer is expected not to drop too many
selection bombs in the Boland town on Saturday.
There are whispers in some sectors of the media that Paul
Jordaan, the exciting Sharks and Baby Boks midfielder who has been tasked with
policing Sonny Bill Williams in the Super Rugby final against the Chiefs in
Hamilton on Saturday, may force his way into plans for the four-nation event
now also featuring Argentina.
The Boks kick off their tournament against the South
Americans at Newlands on Saturday, August 18.
A decent enough display in that showpiece (where he is
mildly out of position at No 12) could see him cement a call-up if he is,
indeed, strongly on Meyer’s mind, just as a big game from versatile Pat Lambie
in the fullback position and a resurgent Ryan Kankowski in the No 8 shirt will
do their own claims for Bok starts against the Pumas no harm at all.
No 15 is an area where the Boks -- mostly for reasons
related to injury upheaval -- chopped and changed heavily against England, as
all of Zane Kirchner, Lambie and Gio Aplon started games in that slot
None was able, under the circumstances, to compellingly
scream: “This berth is mine.”
Not that long ago, the hefty Frans Steyn was seen as a
potential full-time occupant of the last line of defence for the Boks, but he
has been so influential subsequently as an inside centre, with captain Jean de
Villiers in turn settling promisingly into a No 13 role, that this alliance will
almost certainly continue.
Perhaps Peter Grant’s so-so showing for the Stormers in the
Super Rugby semi-final defeat to the Sharks last weekend will have adversely
affected his chances of being added to the Bok mix and pressuring further the
seriously unconvincing and predictable – this year, at any rate – Morne Steyn.
But “Bash’s” willingness to attack the advantage line
physically could yet see him returned to the squad, especially with Goosen
still not ready for any consideration.
Grant’s line kicking has nothing like the range Steyn’s
does, but his short- to medium-range place-kicking has been well eclipsing the
Bulls man’s for accuracy in Super Rugby and there is always Frans Steyn’s
near-unrivalled “distance” strength off the tee to fall back on if someone like
Grant does somehow wriggle his way back to starting duty for his country.
Meanwhile at scrumhalf a close tussle is likely to remain
between incumbent Francois Hougaard (who showed some ongoing flaws in key areas
against England, for all his X-factor and boundless energy and commitment) and
the perhaps more “rounded” Ruan Pienaar.
Sport24 has not been able to establish any major clarity in
inquiries related to veteran Fourie du Preez, who pulled out of contention at
the last minute for the England series after initially being thought of as not
only first-choice No 9 but also skipper.
Did that mean his Test career is now formally finished? No
emphatic “yay or nay” has been forthcoming from the Bok brains trust, but as he
has still been inactive at suitably high levels of the game more recently, it
is hard to imagine he will suddenly be summoned now.
The pack resources, by and large, take care of themselves at
present, with Andries Bekker almost certainly back to bolster lock resources –
though a personal preference would be for Juandre Kruger to at least start the
Castle Championship still in the No 5 jersey, alongside impressive rookie Eben
The ever-enigmatic Pierre Spies ought to feel major heat
from Kankowski for the No 8 start against Argentina, whilst people outside of
the Bulls environment would also be entitled to question the squad retention –
if it happens – of Jacques Potgieter.
He had a reasonable enough debut in the 14-14 draw with
England at Port Elizabeth (the Boks’ most sterile showing of the three,
admittedly under dead-rubber circumstances), but does he offer enough of a
skill-set for Test rugby beyond mere ruggedness and a “direct” approach?
Siya Kolisi, who played wonderfully as an open-sider for the
Stormers this season despite his strongest suit probably still being No 7,
would be a far from undeserving choice if given the nod instead – maybe a
compromise is a green light for both?
For the time being, with Oosthuizen still in rehab from a
neck injury (something usually and wisely treated conservatively for props),
the back-ups to currently clear first choices Beast Mtawarira and Jannie du
Plessis may remain relatively uninspiring in pure scrummaging terms.
Werner Kruger and Dean Greyling can hardly be faulted for
work-rate outside of the set-piece – the latter is a forceful ball-carrier too –
but in recent weeks have worryingly not progressed at all at their supposed
The Bok squad, expected to comprise something close to 30
players, should not differ vastly from this if Meyer sticks to his “stability”
Lambie, Zane Kirchner, JP Pietersen, Lwazi Mvovo, Bryan Habana, Jean de
Villiers (captain), Francois Steyn, JJ Engelbrecht/Paul Jordaan, Morne Steyn,
Elton Jantjies, Francois Hougaard, Ruan Pienaar.
Kankowski, Pierre Spies, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel, Siya
Kolisi, Jacques Potgieter, Andries Bekker, Juandre Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Flip
van der Merwe, Jannie du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira, Werner Kruger, Dean
Greyling, Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Chiliboy Ralepelle.
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