Cape Town – The enforced absence of one of his most
experienced campaigners, Bryan Habana, leaves Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer
with a probable three-way dilemma over who to initially station at left wing on
the end-of-year tour.
Shortly before the start of last Saturday’s Currie Cup final
in Durban, everything pointed to a logical reunion on the three-Test trip of an
old firm in the widest berths on the park: Habana and JP Pietersen, World Cup
final winners at Nos 11 and 14 respectively when the Boks claimed the 2007
spoils against England.
Their alliance earlier in the season was interrupted, of
course, when the long-striding Pietersen, then playing some sublime rugby,
fractured a thumb in the Super Rugby final between the Sharks and Chiefs in
Hamilton and missed the Castle Rugby Championship.
Habana made a temporary positional switch to right wing,
where he fitted in commendably well, but would almost certainly have reverted
to his more traditional left with the recent return to fitness of Pietersen.
But then Habana hobbled off with a knee injury only 14
minutes into the domestic showpiece, where his one-on-one duel with Pietersen
had already been developing into a highly watchable little scrap.
It was later confirmed that the resurgent Western Province
customer would join a swelling list of senior absentees from the Bok tour.
For the lion’s share of the Championship campaign, the Boks
fielded Francois Hougaard at No 11, after his struggle to really impose himself
at scrumhalf in early combat, where he in turn grabbed the back-three shirt
from Sharks flier Lwazi Mvovo.
Hougaard, who again tours the northern hemisphere as a
versatile, designated “scrumhalf/wing”, cannot be considered to have quite made
the wider spot his own yet, either.
He had a difficult day at left wing when the All Blacks
turned on an attacking charm offensive in the closing Championship fixture at
FNB Stadium, winning it 32-16 after the Boks had had their noses promisingly in
front in the first half – but then so did several other Bok backline players,
So Meyer, unless he plans some sort of out-of-position
curveball, may well be wrestling with a trio of possibilities at No 11 for the
first assignment against Ireland in Dublin on November 10: incumbent Hougaard,
Mvovo or his rookie Cheetahs pick Raymond Rhule.
Mvovo does have some prior experience of heavier European
pitches, having made his Bok debut on the last tour of northern climes in 2010
... unfortunately for him in the Edinburgh quagmire where the Boks were upset
He did follow that up, mind, with his maiden Test try a week
later when South Africa impressively saw off England 21-11 at Twickenham.
If it is going to come down to a shootout between Hougaard
and Mvovo, Meyer could hardly be blamed if he considered it a bit of a “six of
one, half a dozen of the other” scenario.
The riskiest but perhaps most exciting choice Meyer could
make is to catapult the 19-year-old, Ghanaian-born Rhule straight into Test
battle against the unsuspecting Irish – this year’s Currie Cup only confirmed
the IRB Junior World Championship-winning player’s dynamic pace and power.
Whether he does go that adventurous route or opts instead to
blood Rhule more gently, the Bok coach is surely to be commended – for all his
other, perceived faults in a taxing first season in charge thus far – for his
willingness to infuse pretty raw talent to the national set-up.
Players in this category include Eben Etzebeth (an
extraordinary 2012 success for both franchise and country), Johan Goosen and
Bok squad preparations for the tour begin in Cape Town on Wednesday.
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