Brussow still fighting the tide
Heinrich Brussow (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Expect another full-blooded performance from Heinrich Brussow on Sunday ... expect also, perversely, the obstacles to a possible Springbok recall only getting bigger.
The diminutive but eternally dapper open-side flank at least has the satisfaction of knowing that his likely start for the Cheetahs in the Super Rugby playoffs match against the Brumbies in Canberra (08:10 SA time) takes both the player himself and his franchise into previously uncharted waters for them.
His many admirers would argue that it is the very least he deserves, as the finals series underdogs try desperately to go all the way to title glory in three possible remaining matches – all of which would be played away if the Bloemfontein-based outfit can somehow advance to the final.
At 26, Brussow remains young enough to dream that he will, eventually, add to his presently dormant stack of 20 Test caps.
For the time being, at least, he has reportedly raised something of a personal white flag in that regard, by signing a Japanese contract that will preclude him from international activity for a while anyway, even as a return to the Cheetahs fold for the 2014 campaign seems reassuringly likely.
Brussow joining the mass exodus of Super Rugby players, competition-wide, to fresh pastures in the Far East, France and elsewhere is particularly understandable – he could do with a bit of “love”, frankly, in a new environment as his claims to further Bok duty remain ignored.
It must be a frustrating time for him, because as much as Brussow largely sends out good, continued signals in Super Rugby of his Test-level competence, somehow you sense that a recall seems even further away than before.
Of course that will be partly of his own doing if he becomes unavailable anyway, but other events have conspired to keep his prospects pretty remote at this juncture.
Just one is that for all the criticism slung the way of Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer from some quarters for the non-involvement of Brussow in his plans, it is desperately hard to quibble with the form of incumbent, Bath-based No 6 Francois Louw, who was a dynamo once more on the open side in his two appearances against Italy and Samoa during the June Test window.
Louw, not only a pedigreed force at the breakdowns, is also a more powerful ball-carrier and general physical presence ... right up Meyer’s alley.
Making Brussow’s Bok comeback task potentially more complicated now, the Stormers have probably finally stumbled upon versatile Deon Fourie’s truest calling: yes, as a No 6 flanker.
Fourie was outstanding in the out-of-contention side’s rousing 30-13 derby disposal of the conference-topping Bulls at Newlands last Saturday, and arguably has been the most crackerjack open-sider domestically in the closing weeks of ordinary season.
For all their trumpeting of his versatility, given his various attributes as a hooker, Stormers coach Allister Coetzee and his lieutenants may well be quietly kicking themselves for not stationing him on the side of the scrum more prolifically earlier in the season, although admittedly their hands were strongly forced by injuries to Tiaan Liebenberg and Scarra Ntubeni – these meant they had little choice but to often field Fourie at No 2, where his lineout throwing is certainly not without flaw.
But the coast seems clearer now for Fourie to settle more routinely into a flanker’s role at both Super Rugby and Currie Cup level, and thus only add to the list of compelling candidates for Test selection in that capacity.
The neutral former Transvaal and 1995 World Cup-winning lock Kobus Wiese, anchoring the Afrikaans “SuperRugby” programme on SuperSport on Monday night, enthusiastically trumpeted Fourie’s all-round performance against the Bulls, adding that he felt the player would be difficult to ignore for any expanded Bok squads in the immediate future.
Fourie, who incidentally is a narrow two months younger than Brussow and has very similar bodily stats to the Free Stater, is also developing a pleasing little habit of just managing to stay on the good side of referees in the borderline, sometimes subjective art of being a genuine nuisance at breakdowns.
Meanwhile Brussow, who is used to having to climb mountains in the quest for highest-level recognition, will doubtless simply get on with his own admirable game as the Cheetahs lock horns with Jake White’s Brumbies – a game some local pundits do believe they are capable of winning, albeit “on the road” with its associated hazards.
The man rightly still commands a swollen fan club, especially of people who have never forgotten the gigantic role he played in two of the best back-to-back triumphs ever achieved by South Africa against New Zealand, at Bloemfontein and Durban respectively during the victorious 2009 Tri-Nations.
The open-side ante for Sunday has been upped by White’s indication that Wallabies fetching legend George Smith, who began the shock defeat to the Force last weekend off the bench, will start against the Cheetahs.
Whatever happens, it is hard to imagine Brussow being a notably peripheral character at Canberra Stadium.
For all his frustrations, Heinrich Brussow doesn’t really do “innocuous”, does he?*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing