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.
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
Additional tour squad members:
Bismarck du Plessis, Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi, Rudy Paige, Elton Jantjies
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing