Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Bok squad well balanced
Cape Town – This may just go down as one of the least contentious Springbok tour squads for some years.
Of course the proof of the attempted Grand Slam pudding will be in the eating, but when you strip away the variety of “unavailables” through injury, the 30-strong party named after the Absa Currie Cup final on Saturday seems pretty well-balanced and brimful of potential.
It is a considerably less naïve squad, I think, than left these shores for last year’s northern hemisphere venture, where the Boks won just one of three Tests and a dirt-track outfit was humbled in two English appearances.
Generally speaking, the 2010 travellers seem more suitably geared for the likely pitch and weather conditions that will confront them, with a judicious mix of expressive youth and hardened experience.
The prospect of such proven warhorses as Bismarck du Plessis – outstanding in the Sharks’ richly-deserved seizure of the domestic trophy – and Juan Smith getting regular game-time again on tour after a disrupted international season for them is a great comfort.
On the other side of the scale, meanwhile, nobody will begrudge dynamic young guns like Pat Lambie, Elton Jantjies and Lwazi Mvovo, all of whom lit up the Currie Cup campaign, their maiden steps up to the green and gold.
Just how much starting activity they sample on the four-Test tour – plus BaaBaas fixture at the tail-end -- remains to be seen, because certain incumbents may not be shifted until they flop notably.
For instance, while there will be great anticipation about examining the Test credentials of flyhalves Lambie and Jantjies, the Blue Bulls’ Morne Steyn is the possessor of the No 10 jersey as things stand, and Frans Steyn and Ruan Pienaar can also do service in this channel if asked to.
Versatility, in fact, is another pleasing feature of the party, with most positions offering both depth and possible emergency cover -- a further new cap in the imposing ball-carrier Willem Alberts, for example, could operate either at blindside flank or No 8 or even cover lock fairly seamlessly if there is suddenly a crisis in that area.
At 119kg and not too far off two metres tall, there will be plenty of Euro observers who set eyes on him for the first time and understandably assume he is a second-rower by first trade!
Speaking of ball-carriers, the untiring Western Province No 8 Duane Vermeulen is one of the unluckiest omissions: yes, the WP loose forwards were solidly outplayed in the Durban final, but that was partly because their tight five came under pressure anew and “go-forward” was in short supply for the visitors.
Still, Vermeulen has played too much rugby this year and maybe it is a blessing in disguise for him that he must wait a few more months for another stab at Bok recognition.
This, of course, could be a make-or-break tour for Pierre Spies, of whom a perception remains in many circles that he plays in fits and starts and needs to get stuck in much more over the course of 80 minutes.
Two Bulls players who were absent from a SARU-issued list of some 10 specifically not considered due to injury, Zane Kirchner and Danie Rossouw, have presumably just slipped out of favour instead.
Interestingly, there is no out-and-out specialist fullback in the squad, although all of versatile troops Frans Steyn, Gio Aplon, Lambie and Pienaar could serve the spot with some distinction.
Rossouw is an ultra-reliable, no-fuss squad man, able to fit comfortably into the back or second row, and has often shone in Europe before, but perhaps his advanced age – 32 – is starting to count against him.
And room did have to be made among the loose forwards for a whippet, who comes in the probably popular shape of debutant Keegan Daniel.
Of course there was bound to have been the usual outcry about Ricky Januarie initially making the squad, but let’s face it, some coaches stick stubbornly to certain players just because they can or want to.
And then came news, anyway, that the scrumhalf’s knee injury in the Currie Cup final was serious enough for him to be ruled out – a replacement No 9 has not been named as yet.
Besides, there was always the chance that Januarie would have been relegated to third-choice scrumhalf because of the presence of Francois Hougaard and Ulster’s Pienaar.
If there is one area of limited depth for the tour, it appears to be at centre, where the only specialists are the WP pair of Jean de Villiers and Juan de Jongh (the latter also crocked in the typically bruising final).
Beyond them, only Racing Metro’s Steyn has meaningful experience in midfield, so that could easily become a problematic issue as the tour – starting with perhaps the trickiest hurdle of Ireland in Dublin on Saturday – progresses.
There can be few quibbles over the provincial split: nine players from the hot, Currie Cup-winning Sharks team, eight from Super 14 champions the Bulls, and six (at least until the Januarie withdrawal) from the only SA franchise to make both major finals this year but come up blank, the Stormers/WP.
The rest of the squad comprises four Cheetahs men, one from the Lions in precocious Jantjies, and two overseas-based players.
Of course there will be foam at certain mouths over the Bok selection – there always, always is – but I don’t fancy on this occasion that it will reach any record levels …
Tour squad (* Indicates new cap):
Gio Aplon (Western Province); Age: 28; Test caps: 9
Bjorn Basson (Blue Bulls); 23, 2
Juan de Jongh (Western Province); 22, 6
Jean de Villiers (Western Province); 29, 63
Francois Hougaard (Blue Bulls); 22, 5
Bryan Habana (Western Province); 27, 66
* Elton Jantjies (Golden Lions); 20, 0
* Patrick Lambie (The Sharks); 20, 0
* Lwazi Mvovo (The Sharks); 24, 0
Ruan Pienaar (Ulster, N Ireland); 26, 43
Frans Steyn (Racing Metro, France); 23, 39
Morne Steyn (Blue Bulls); 26, 21Forwards
* Willem Alberts (The Sharks); Age: 26, Test caps: 0
Bakkies Botha (Blue Bulls); 31, 68
Schalk Burger (Western Province); 27, 63
* Keegan Daniel (The Sharks); 25, 0
Bismarck du Plessis (The Sharks); 26, 32
Jannie du Plessis (The Sharks); 28, 20
Alistair Hargreaves (The Sharks); 24, 2
Ryan Kankowski (The Sharks); 25, 16
Victor Matfield (captain, Blue Bulls); 33, 101
Tendai Mtawarira (The Sharks); 25, 22
* Coenie Oosthuizen (Cheetahs); 21, 0
Chiliboy Ralepelle (Blue Bulls); 24, 17
Juan Smith (Cheetahs); 29, 65
Pierre Spies (Blue Bulls); 25, 37
Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs); 24, 7
CJ van der Linde (Cheetahs); 30, 65
Flip van der Merwe (Blue Bulls); 25, 6
The Springbok fixtures:
November 6 v Ireland (Dublin)
November 13 v Wales (Cardiff)
November 20 v Scotland (Edinburgh)
November 27 v England (Twickenham)
December 4 v Barbarians (Twickenham)