Cheetahs props to boost Boks?
Trevor Nyakane (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – The time may be right for South Africa to do a win-win thing by resting their senior front-rankers against Scotland at Mbombela Stadium on Saturday and experimenting with some new faces.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer
, pleasingly, does not want to hand out caps willy-nilly, but at the same time he will be aware that the national team’s fairly staple Sharks prop firm of Tendai Mtawarira
and Jannie du Plessis look noticeably jaded at present.
The situation is perhaps a little harder to fathom in loosehead Mtawarira, who has spent a fair chunk of the current Super Rugby season sidelined by injury and ought to be coming back into his own at present, rather than succumbing to any fatigue.
Truth be told, both men -- who do not need to prove to anyone their international pedigrees after many impressive Test performances respectively – may still be paying a 'hangover' price from a particularly burdensome 2012 workload for them.
On top of another arduous Test programme for South Africa, remember that the Sharks made both the Super Rugby and Currie Cup finals last year, with their ascent to the showpiece in the former competition characterised by a virtually unprecedented bout of time zone criss-crossing in the knockout phase.
At the risk of banging a repetitive drum, it is ridiculous and well nigh inhumane that the first three Test matches of the southern hemisphere winter come straight out an advanced stage of Super Rugby warfare, with less than a week for national teams to prepare for the first one.
Little wonder that both the Boks against Italy and the All Blacks against France on Saturday played rather in fits and starts in securing comfortable enough victories without quite managing to establish consistent strangleholds on their Six Nations foes.
Conservation for the next week’s bout of bone-rattling must always be in senior players’ minds, even if partly subconsciously.
It is my belief that the Boks need to box clever, in terms of game-time management, with some of their tight forward resources in particular if they are to be a force in the more important business of the Rugby Championship a few weeks further up the line.
Both starting props did well enough at the outset against the Italians, with the Bok scrum not giving an inch ... admittedly a situation helped by the visitors’ mountainous tighthead icon Martin Castrogiovanni kicking his heels on the bench initially.
But later things went more than a little pear-shaped, especially in the first 20 minutes after the break when the hosts were astonishingly pinned back for lengthy periods both from a territorial and possession point of view.
South Africa probably have little to lose by either giving one or both of Du Plessis and Mtawarira a complete week off or impact roles among the substitutes against Scotland, who come off first-time defeat to Samoa in the Durban double-header and should be comfortably beatable in domestic conditions whatever happens in the various phases of play on the day at Nelspruit.
While it would be most foolhardy to make a sweeping judgement based on less than 10 minutes of often deceptive activity at the end, the Cheetahs’ Trevor Nyakane stopped the scrum-time rot a couple of times after his industrious entry to the fray and coach Meyer reportedly acknowledged as much afterwards.
Might this mean a starting crack in the Lowveld clash for 24-year-old Nyakane, the 118kg loosehead who has clearly benefited hugely from the franchise tutelage of the great Os du Randt?
Meyer may just be tempted to go the whole hog by making a change at No 3 as well, where either of Nyakane’s Cheetahs allies Coenie Oosthuizen
or Lourens Adriaanse might relish an opportunity to run out at the outset.
Adriaanse is a new face as part of the extended Bok squad at present, although he did not make the match-day squad against Italy, and it would be educative to see – either as a starter or sub – whether he looks like providing worthy, much-needed back-up to the overstretched Du Plessis on the tighthead side.
Of course the quest to keep the juggernaut Oosthuizen a versatile prop customer (always a comfort among the reserves) could be aided by allowing him a shot at No 3 against Scotland, although a suspicion remains that he is much more comfortable on the other side of the engine room.
As much as a rest for the two senior Bok props would probably be welcomed by Du Plessis in particular, omitting them simultaneously sends out a subtle little message: "Be careful, you may not be indispensable, and we do require bigger things from you soon."
Meyer understandably intends to "keep the core of the team together" after a welcome, more fluid display against Italy with some easy-on-the-eye tries, but is there anything to lose by significantly adjusting the front row next Saturday?*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing