Irish to see brighter Boks

2014-10-31 05:00
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)

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 Test rugby.

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 time.

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 2014.

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 ... 

*Springbok starting 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.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  cape town  |  rugby

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