New-look Bok back 3 looms
Cape Town - Expect the Springbok back three for the first Castle Rugby Championship match against Argentina at Newlands on Saturday to be 100 percent altered, at least in jersey-wearing terms, from the personnel who manned these posts in the final Test against England at Port Elizabeth in late June.
Reading between the lines, it appears that fit-again Zane Kirchner
will regain his fullback berth, after getting sidelined by injury in the first Test against England in Durban, and the wings will be Lwazi Mvovo
and Bryan Habana
The long-serving Habana did play in the drawn encounter against England at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, but that was in his more conventional No 11 jersey - this time he is probably the favourite to operate out of position on the right, given the unfortunate absence for several weeks of JP Pietersen.
In the final Test against the English, Gio Aplon had the No 15 jersey, with normal first-choice wing fliers Habana and Pietersen at their orthodox stations; instability at fullback had been aggravated at the time by the unavailability of the second-Test choice there, Pat Lambie.
But a significant reshuffle of the whole back three has been required due to in-form Pietersen’s thumb fracture, especially given that diminutive Stormers star Aplon has subsequently been axed from the Bok squad.
It would be more logical for Habana to swop sides than the considerably less experienced Mvovo - if both specialist left wings are to be accommodated, as strongly speculated - given that he is no stranger to occasional duty as an outside centre, so will have a more natural positional affinity to the right-hand side of the park.
Besides, it is a chance for the long-time Bok banker on the left to acquire a few “novelty” No 14 jerseys to add to his impressive collection, provided that he looks suitably at home on a temporary basis.
Specific, team selection issues were obviously skirted when Ricardo Loubscher, one of the Bok assistant coaches and himself a former Test fullback, held a media briefing on Sunday morning - the team to play Argentina will be formally announced by head coach Heyneke Meyer
But he also said little to suggest that the back three will differ from the hotly-tipped alliance of Kirchner, Mvovo and Habana.
Asked whether a lack of continuity at fullback was regarded as problematic, given the deployment of all of Kirchner, Lambie and Aplon in succession against England, Loubscher said: “It won’t be something new for the (contenders).
“These guys are professionals and know how to adapt and what to expect ... we expect a physical game and a kicking game (given the heavy, wet conditions being experienced in Cape Town).”
It is no secret that in such circumstances, particularly, Meyer favours fairly brawny individuals to be stationed in the last line of defence, and Kirchner’s 1.86m and near-100kg gives him the edge on someone like the versatile Lambie (1.77m, 92kg) who may offer potentially widespread cover options off the bench on Saturday.
Loubscher did say toward the end of the briefing, perhaps significantly: “Zane got injured and I think it’s only fair that he gets another opportunity.”
He felt that possibly engaging two left wings on Saturday “would not make a helluva difference” and need not be regarded as a snag.
“Test players can adjust to these situations.”
He confirmed that probably having an impressive array of line and tactical kickers in the expected Bok backline on Saturday - aided by the return of Frans Steyn
to midfield after his honeymoon-induced absence from the PE Test - would be handy at Newlands.
“At Test level kicking is always a big part of your game. We’re fortunate to have all those guys available. It’s definitely an area where we are working hard to establish 100 percent accuracy in (execution) and also the fielding of kicks.
being (available again) is massive. He is also a big part of our game-plan in terms of his ball-carrying, getting us over the advantage line.”*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing