Overseas Boks will be sharper soon

2016-06-22 11:11
Duane Vermeulen (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Tendai Mtawarira reportedly reckons the Springboks are scrumming well. Matthew Proudfoot says it is a myth that someone like Bath-based Francois Louw is knackered.

And I am tempted to say that I just saw an ostrich playing French cricket with a buffalo in my garden.

On a slightly more serious note, though, I find the Bok assistant coach’s theory on open-side flanker Louw just that teeny bit less implausible than the “Beast’s” at present.

It got me thinking further that it would probably be foolhardy anyway to make a sweeping judgement on the attractiveness or otherwise of foreign-based players to the Bok cause by using evidence from Allister Coetzee’s two chosen imports -- Louw and fellow-loosie Duane Vermeulen -- in the Test series against Ireland so far.

There is always the possibility that, all other considerations aside, neither is simply playing to known premier levels at present.

Dips in form in sport? It happens to ‘em all.

While Vermeulen may well have arrived with the suspicion of being less than fully fit after his Toulon endeavours anyway, he got more definitively hurt in the first half of the second Test in Johannesburg last Saturday and his elbow injury will now side-line him for several weeks.

As for Louw, it looks as though he will be asked to produce a last, herculean effort as the most senior remaining Bok loose forward in the decisive Port Elizabeth clash this weekend, before earning a very necessary break himself following the often heavy-pitch demands of the European season.

Anyone suggesting that both men should be considered surplus to requirements henceforth, just because they haven’t set the planet alight in this series, would be guilty of possessing blisteringly selective, ludicrously short-term memory banks on them.

It can virtually be taken as a fact, I think, that Louw and Vermeulen arrived for these assignments in a similar state of fatigue-related vulnerability that you get from locally-based Boks as that obligatory end-of-year Test roster in the northern hemisphere arduously unwinds, following a southern rugby season that has begun for them some time in February.

Coetzee will have been well aware of the perils of deploying Euro-stationed Springboks right now, and it may explain why he – sensibly? – only opted for two of them for the Ireland series.

Yet he won’t earn any quibbles from this writer, for the little it matters, if he actually hikes his tally of squad members from northern climes for the rigours of the Rugby Championship, the customary main event of the year from a Bok perspective.

One sound reason is that such a group of players would almost certainly be in better fettle both mentally and physically by then: the Boks open their account against Argentina at Mbombela Stadium on August 20, which is two months away.

That gives pretty decent time for foreign-based players to both get some welcome “feet up” opportunity and to engage in vital, out-of-competition conditioning and strength programmes during the period if they are genuinely keen to contribute to the green-and-gold cause.

In short, they would be far likelier to hit the ground running in the Championship than we saw from Louw and Vermeulen, who almost “limped” into action straight off their club seasons, against the Irish.

You may also find, as Super Rugby resumes for its business end immediately after Saturday’s final Test clash is completed, that a few home-based Boks start to succumb themselves to tiredness and niggles in the interim, and almost inevitably in the odd case more serious injury too.

It would make sense, I am quite adamant, not only to involve Louw and Vermeulen once more, but also such proven international heavyweights as Bryan Habana and Bismarck du Plessis, who remain quite possibly the best South African players in their respective positions of left wing and hooker.

I don’t buy the argument of binning such players from Test rugby just because they are unlikely (especially in Habana’s case, of course) to feature for the full remainder of the next World Cup cycle to 2019 in Japan.

Frankly, the Boks need to set their sights on less lofty aspirations, under current circumstances, than the Webb Ellis Cup for the time being, and instead using the next two years or so to focus on just winning key Test matches more consistently and trying to earn first Rugby Championship honours since they last won the former Tri-Nations back in 2009.

They still need the balance provided by a good few hardebaarde, regardless of whether based here or further afield in franchise terms, to help restore a regular, winning culture and also nurture younger players being blooded to the ranks by providing on-field stability and guidance around them.

And I believe Coetzee knows that.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  duane vermeulen  |  rugby

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