Mvovo heavy tip for Bok start
Lwazi Mvovo (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer on Monday all but ruled out the possibility of Francois Hougaard deputising for injured JP Pietersen at right wing in the first few matches of the Castle Rugby Championship.
Incumbent No 14 Pietersen, the Sharks stalwart who has been in cracking form in 2012, is ruled out of at least the first two thirds of the tournament courtesy of a broken thumb from the Super Rugby final.
In response to an inquiry from Sport24 as to whether versatile scrumhalf Hougaard, who has shone for the Boks out wide as a substitute before, might be in the frame for Pietersen’s place against Argentina at Newlands on August 18, Meyer said at a press briefing: “Francois can always cover wing for us.
“But I don’t think he’s 100 percent where he should be at the moment because he’s been playing (overwhelmingly at scrumhalf) more recently.
“The best thing for Francois at the moment is for him to focus on nine, where he wants (to play); there are still a few flaws he needs to sort out in his game. But he has played probably some his best (international) rugby at wing and he’ll always been an option there.”
That leaves the way clear for reasonably peripheral squad members Lwazi Mvovo - the hot favourite, it seems - and JJ Engelbrecht to fight it for the No 14 jersey against the Pumas, even though Stormers centre Juan de Jongh has been added to the mix since Pietersen’s setback.
Meyer concurred that the Boks, when all potential main customers like Bryan Habana, Mvovo and Bjorn Basson are fighting fit, are probably better stocked for left wing resources than on the right.
“Yes, I think that’s the right observation because Lwazi is definitely more accustomed to the left side. When we pick the side it may well be about who we decide to move over to the right ... JJ can play there as well, but suddenly there is a lack of (specialists) at right wing.”
Umtata-born Mvovo, Pietersen’s Sharks team-mate at No 11, certainly seems the slight favourite, based on Meyer’s broad hints and also the fact that the Bulls’ lanky Engelbrecht has been trying to forge a new existence at outside centre recently.
The slippery Mvovo already has four Bok caps and made his debut against Scotland at Murrayfield in 2010.
Asked whether the Stormers’ axed back-three player Gio Aplon was considered for a reprieve, considering the Pietersen setback, Meyer said: “I did think about Gio as well; he’s a quality player.
“But if you look at it, Bryan is there and Lwazi’s there ... probably the guys who will start. Then JJ and Francois can provide cover.
“The problem was that JP was also the intended second outside centre, which is why Juan de Jongh didn’t come into the mix right at the start, and JJ can cover both centre and wing. You only travel with 26 players so you have to take that into consideration as well.
“But I’m really happy for Juan; he’s been close to the team so many times. It’s strange how life works: I saw him at our training this morning (at Bellville, where the Stormers and Western Province also do their preparation) and greeted him and told him to stick to his guns as he’d get a chance soon.
“I didn’t know yet that JP was out, and now Juan is in the team!”
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing