Springboks

Boks muscle up their midfield

2016-11-03 18:33
Rohan Janse van Rensburg (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – They are probably the Springboks’ sturdiest centre pairing of the year from a physical point of view … signs of attacking sparkle and general cohesion on Saturday would only enhance their prospect of becoming a more regular combination further up the line.

Coach Allister Coetzee on Thursday named, among six uncapped players in the starting XV, an all-new midfield alliance of Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Francois Venter for the Wembley date with the Barbarians.

In a move that ought to please people who believe franchise form should be more strongly recognised, the Lions’ chunky Super Rugby 2016 standout, Janse van Rensburg, joins forces with Venter, more recently instrumental as both captain and player in the Cheetahs’ Currie Cup trophy success.

The Baabaas clash will not serve as a particularly relevant exercise with a view to the three-Test portion of the European venture immediately afterwards – the Lions player doesn’t stay on with the rather different squad for those more heavyweight assignments, anyway.

But it is nevertheless an educative enough opportunity to gauge whether Janse van Rensburg, 22, and Venter, 25, hold future potential as a Test pairing.

Midfield has been a glaringly disappointing area for the Boks throughout this rocky year, both in relation to flair and defensive aspects.

Frankly, no player looks a shoe-in for a Bok centre shirt, whether it be No 12 or 13, especially as Damian de Allende has been so inexplicably off the pace from the figure who electrified at inside centre for much of 2015.

South Africa are also currently without the services for injury-related reasons of men like Juan de Jongh and Jan Serfontein, although Lionel Mapoe – pretty iffy in appearances during Coetzee’s Bok tenure thus far – rejoins the international plans from his Japanese base from next week.

Meanwhile utility factor Jesse Kriel, also struggling for his best form, is instead entrusted with the fullback chore against the Baabaas.

Given the state of volatility, a forceful showing from Venter this Saturday could even see him nail down a berth for the crunch game against England at Twickenham a week ahead, although Janse van Rensburg would merely be ticking a box for fresh contention next year.

One thing they will offer against the Baabaas is improved muscle in the Bok midfield, where some of their more diminutive figures have struggled recently to assert themselves in the not unimportant “collisions” department – like it or not, still a critical area of the game.

One of the Barbarians centres this weekend will be Seta Tamanivalu, the 24-year-old Fijian-born powerhouse (1.89m, 105kg) who earned maiden caps for the All Blacks off the bench earlier this season.

In a “festival” game of this type, the former Chiefs player, now headed for the Crusaders in 2017, will wish to punch as many holes in attacking raids as possible and the 108kg Janse van Rensburg, especially, is well suited to stopping him – not to mention forcing a few breaks or tackle-busts of his own.

Perhaps it is no bad thing, as the Boks seek the morale-lifter of a win – regardless of how it is achieved – that the Baabaas side they oppose is pretty low on truly legendary figures in this instance and will also feature a good few South Africans of varying credentials.

Coetzee will know deep down that his combo will contain vulnerable aspects itself, particularly as just about all positional combinations he has opted for will be first-time ones and just as likely temporary in many instances.

For example, hooker Malcolm Marx will be throwing in to a hitherto untried jumping alliance at lock of rookie RG Snyman (Bulls) and the slightly more experienced Pieter-Steph du Toit (Stormers).

Meanwhile Roelof Smit, Oupa Mohoje and Nizaam Carr will similarly be playing together as loose forwards for a maiden occasion, and there are two completely novice wings at green-and-gold level – this game does not offer full caps – in Sergeal Petersen and Jamba Ulengo.

Although the halfback combination of Rudy Paige and acting captain Pat Lambie may very well also be the intended pairing against England seven days later, again they have not yet started a Test match together as the scrumhalf and flyhalf respectively.

A minor saving grace in the front row is that props Tendai Mtawarira (one of few Bok “regulars” beginning this match) and Lourens Adriaanse know each other well from their Sharks affiliation.

Broadly speaking, however, and despite the relative pleasure and intrigue of seeing several new faces injected to the Bok cause, this really seems a Pot Luck Club in so many respects for Saturday … 

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

 

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