Cape Town – The evolution of both personnel and game-plan in
the Springbok ranks should become apparent to Ireland when they host the
tourists in their first end-of-year tour fixture in Dublin next Saturday.
These teams have not met since an equivalent meeting at
Aviva Stadium two years ago, towards the end of Heyneke Meyer’s first season as
Bok coach, when the visitors came from 12-3 down at halftime to prevail 16-12
courtesy of a commanding second half.
Meyer has an
unblemished track record in these northern hemisphere ventures, considering
that his charges won all three matches on both the 2013 tour (Wales, Scotland,
France) and the 2012 one (Ireland, Scotland, England).
The world No 2-ranked Boks will target another 100 percent
record this time, even as they face a slightly longer, four-game roster.
The cream of their squad have had the benefit of a few
weeks’ break from competitive action because of their rare non-involvement in
the advanced stages of the Currie Cup, but will have to hit their straps
speedily as Ireland are defending Six Nations champions and have run them close
in each of the two clashes thus far at the new, 52 000-capacity home of Irish
But a look at the Bok starting line-up from the 2012
encounter also serves up a clear reminder of how significantly Meyer’s formula
has altered – most would assert for the better – subsequently.
Only one member of the likely South African backline next
Saturday (if we take the liberty of assuming there will be few or no changes to
the team that pipped the All Blacks at Ellis Park recently) survives in the
same jersey: No 12 midfielder and captain Jean de Villiers.
Around him, the backline at the time had a fairly makeshift
look to it, as utility back Jaco Taute played his third – and last up to this
point – game at outside centre for the Boks; ironically the man more renowned
as a fullback has gone full circle since his comeback from injury as he was in
midfield for Western Province in last Saturday’s Currie Cup final.
Another jack-of-all-trades, Francois Hougaard (during his counter-productive
period when it was tricky to decide whether he was best suited to scrumhalf or
wing) operated in the No 11 jersey then.
The Bulls favourite has since settled back more regularly
into No 9 status, and was excellent in the overdue triumph against New Zealand.
But perhaps the most earth-shattering change since the 2012
clash has been the replacement of Zane Kirchner (ironically now Irish-based,
with Leinster) with Willie le Roux at fullback.
Whilst the latter has been a bit below his best in recent
Tests, the unpredictability he has brought to Bok backline play on attack –
something the conservative-style Kirchner simply does not come close to
matching – is a key reason the Boks have closed the gap on the All Blacks at
the top of the global pile.
Kirchner, though perhaps still a good option to have around
on a miserable day and heavy field, has not smelled a Test shirt for several
months and may find it difficult now to add to his 29 caps.
The Irish will also encounter a Bok pack – and especially
tight five – more formidable on paper than last time.
The established, usually first-choice front row firm of
Tendai Mtawarira and the Du Plessis brothers should take to the Aviva turf next
weekend; in 2012 only one of them, Jannie du Plessis, was available at the
Featuring at loosehead (and in his last start for the Boks)
was the journeyman CJ van der Linde, now 34 and who last popped up at the EP
Kings during the 2014 Currie Cup season.
Meyer was also then much more partial toward Juandre Kruger,
the No 5 lock who has since fallen well down the second-row pecking order –
lineout legend Victor Matfield is back and producing a calibre of rugby not far
off his heyday fare.
The only reason the loose forward combination next weekend will
also look greatly different from Dublin 2012 is the absence at present through
injury of Francois Louw and Willem Alberts, both of whom might well have
featured (had they been fit) alongside surviving No 8 Duane Vermeulen ... just
another Springbok who has taken his personal performance levels up a notch in
There is a case for saying the Boks should not only win
again this time, but perhaps also put the Irish away a bit more comfortably
than two years ago ...
XV v Ireland, Dublin November 2012 (won 16-12): 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 JP
Pietersen, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Jean de Villiers (capt), 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Pat
Lambie, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5
Juandre Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 CJ
van der Linde.
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