Boks look adrift in stormy sea

2015-08-12 15:06
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Some of us are instinctively, resolutely optimistic about Springbok rugby, even when times are tough.

But the glass-half-full brigade may reluctantly close the gap on the apocalypse crew, alas, by finding it hard to muster genuinely chipper thoughts about the likelihood of South Africa swiftly avenging in Buenos Aires on Saturday (21:40 SA time) their first-time loss to Argentina at Kings Park last weekend.

In short, Wednesday’s greatly shaken-up Bok team revealed by coach Heyneke Meyer does dangerously little to inspire pre-match confidence.

To put it politely, it looks experimental - and in many cases glaringly short of a gallop - and will do extremely well to find the necessary cohesion after the long-haul trek at pretty short notice to see off a Pumas outfit presumably revelling right now in their triumphant homecoming and weighing up another famous kill.

The big question, I reckon, is: has Meyer been given (or given himself) the licence to risk another Test reverse - it would be an unpalatable fifth on the trot if it occurred - with a view to the bigger picture of the World Cup next month?

Because if win-at-all-costs is the motto being spread through the Bok camp for this one, the troops assembled (including as many as eight alterations to the starting mix) may labour to find the necessary synergy to complete the stiff requirement.

There is a hint of overkill, and a similar peppering of panic ... and these, in fairness to the suddenly hard-pressed Meyer, have not previously been hallmarks of his patiently and often very rationally-assembled Bok template since 2012.

Or is he quite prepared for the possibility of taking another more immediate torpedo to the hull, in order to cocoon one last time a great many of his firmly-in-mind personnel for the assault on RWC 2015?

The shaking of the bag for Saturday is so extreme that it is hard to know where to begin for analysis purposes.

Maybe the front row, so often the area where Argentina brutally focus their attack, best sums up the extremity of Meyer’s reaction in selection terms to the 12-point Durban humbling.

Simply put, it is “all change, please” as the entire Bok trio is restructured in the quest to stave off a second turbulent day at the scrummaging office in a week.

Meyer is not too wide of the mark in saying that reserve props Trevor Nyakane and Marcel van der Merwe “finished strongly” in Durban (to justify their starts for a stern examination in Buenos Aires) although by then Argentina had basically completed their destruction job at the set-piece and assassin-in-chief Marcos Ayerza long been pulled off for a well-earned rest.

Still, Nyakane is especially deserving of only a second appearance in the run-on side after amassing 14 caps as a substitute: the loosehead coped quite well with that legend of the No 3 trade, Martin Castrogiovanni, in his maiden start for the Boks in Padova last year.

He is part of a significantly more representative-looking Bok XV this weekend, which won’t surprise too many observers after a fresh political hoo-ha earlier this week.

Whether this was a conscious step or not, it probably still won’t placate some critics who will lament the complete absence from the match-day 23 this week of Siya Kolisi, who did everything that could have been expected of him in 17 minutes off the bench at Kings Park, but finds himself no more than a nominal “additional tour squad member” for the Argentina trip.

Naturally the return from a relative wilderness of Irish-based Zane Kirchner to the last line of defence – his last of 29 caps was as deputy fullback against Scotland at Port Elizabeth 14 months ago - will ruffle plenty of feathers.

Regardless of reports that he has been playing solidly for Leinster, he just seems too glaringly like a “fallback” considering the known limits to his skills set ... and anyway, he will do wonderfully well to switch on to immediate needs after a significant exile from the green-and-gold cause.

I haven’t personally discounted the possibility of a good World Cup by the Boks, and I’m also not yet among the hysterical prophets of doom over Meyer’s suitability - and some reports this week suggest we’ve still got him until 2019 - to the head coaching job.

Right now, it’s this Saturday that worries me more.

An Argentinean friend is among those whose company I will be keeping for the game on Saturday night. I fear it is the cork on a Malbec that may be triumphantly popped at the final whistle.

Again ...

Springbok team:

15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Lwazi Mvovo, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Trevor Nyakane

Substitutes: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20, Pieter-Steph du Toit, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Handre Pollard, 23 Jan Serfontein

Additional tour squad members:

Bismarck du Plessis, Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi, Rudy Paige, Elton Jantjies

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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