Cape Town – Albeit unconfirmed, the likelihood that one of
the current first-choice Springbok locks, Andries Bekker, will not be fit for
the end-of-year tour may persuade coach Heyneke Meyer to seriously consider one
or both of a pair overseas customers whose credentials he knows inside out.
Bakkies Botha and Danie Rossouw, who will become team-mates
once more next year when the latter joins French Top 14 leaders Toulon, seem
tempting horses for the probable heavy courses of Ireland and the United
Kingdom when the Boks undertake their three-Test mission next month.
Meyer is under pressure to improve his win record in his
first year in charge, which currently reads four from nine outings, so there is
little doubt that he will want to assemble the most gnarly squad possible –
despite a pretty formidable list of late-season injury casualties – for the
successive games against Ireland (November 10), Scotland (November 17) and
England (November 24).
The likes of Juandre Kruger and Flip van der Merwe have been
in the broad Bok mix more or less throughout 2012 thus far, to add to the
staple presence of soon 21-year-old find Eben Etzebeth, and the Bulls pair
should both crack the nod for the trip.
But there will also be room, presumably, for a fourth
second-rower in the party, and it is hard to believe that Meyer will not at
least mull over the possibility – given the expected absence of towering Bekker
-- of calling up either of still-sprightly thirtysomethings Botha (Toulon) and
Rossouw (Suntory Sungoliath, Japan, until his shift to France in February next
Whilst there will certainly be those keen to brand the
stalwart Bok pair “has-beens”, at 33 and 34 respectively they are not exactly
over-the-hill at their specialist trade, when you consider that players like
England’s Simon Shaw (39) and the 37-year-old All Black Brad Thorn continue to
ply their first-class trade most effectively.
Former Crusaders favourite Thorn recently committed to
another season of Super Rugby in 2013, with the newly-ambitious Highlanders.
Botha, by all accounts, is in a decent state of fitness and
zest for the French pace-setters, whilst Rossouw may be playing in the lesser
environment of the Japanese Top League at present, but he remains a model
professional and is unlikely to have got out of shape since leaving the Bulls
Just as Botha has always said he aspires to further national
duty, Rossouw, after the heart-breaking World Cup 2011 quarter-final exit to
Australia, was immediately quoted as saying: “I still have Test ambitions; I
will see if I can get myself in good shape over there (for Suntory).”
The lion-hearted, no-fuss Rossouw is an ideal player to have
in a touring squad also because of the versatility he offers – he can easily do
duty as a blindside flank or No 8 if the need suddenly arises.
The Boks will want to continue their scrummaging progress on
the tour; that particular set-piece is always a handy one to have mastery of in
slow European late-autumn conditions, and Botha and Rossouw are powerful tight-five
assets in that regard.
Of course club contractual obligations can be obstacles in
summoning overseas-based players, but there are also suitable gaps in the
respective domestic calendars for both Botha and Rossouw while the Boks undergo
their relatively short mission.
Toulon have a Top 14 fixture which coincides with the first
Bok fixture against the Irish in Dublin, but then have a gap until November 29,
almost a week after the South Africans have ended their programme.
As for Suntory, round eight of the Top League in Japan is contested
on October 27, and then there is a break in league obligations until the ninth
round on December 1.
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