Urgent: Boks seek new strongman

2016-10-17 13:24
Jannie du Plessis in the sin-bin (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Marcel van der Merwe, Lourens Adriaanse and a dark horse in veteran Jannie du Plessis … those are arguably the foremost candidates for the tighthead prop vacancy in the Springbok squad for the imminent end-of-year tour.

The gap has been created by the serious, highly unfortunate neck injury suffered by Julian Redelinghuys for the Golden Lions in their broadly forgettable 55-17 defeat at the hands of the Cheetahs in Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-final in Bloemfontein.

Redelinghuys has reportedly had successful surgery, although any return to rugby will be the last thing on his or medical experts’ minds for the moment, so he can be ruled out of the European trek.

The 27-year-old has most recently been the bench back-up to Vincent Koch in the Bok side, although there had been little to separate them.

Now Saracens-stationed, Koch, at least, is available for the Test portion of the tour against England, Italy and Wales respectively, after the Boks have played an effective “warm-up” -- outside the international window, precluding many overseas-based players from selection -- against the Barbarians at Wembley on November 5.

The blond front-rower has a fine opportunity on the tour to cement his spot, even if the Boks have probably not yet witnessed the best of him either as a scrummager or potent ball-carrier.

But expect beleaguered Bok coach Allister Coetzee to be making some fairly frantic inquiries already about the readiness of several No 3s, both home and abroad-based, to fill the Redelinghuys void.

His first-choice tighthead when he began his tenure in charge earlier this year, Frans Malherbe, is still rehabbing from his own neck injury and seems a long shot for the November mission, whilst there have also been ongoing injury and/or conditioning woes for beefy, already Bok-capped “utility” props like Trevor Nyakane and Coenie Oosthuizen.

Many pundits would insist, and not without merit, that both men are better suited to the loosehead side of the scrum.

Especially on the soft, slow pitches of the northern hemisphere in winter, and with the often more stop-start nature of the game there, a specialist No3 anchorman tends to be essential at scrum-time.

The “safe” choice as back-up to Koch would probably be Lourens Adriaanse of the Sharks, who has been familiar with Bok systems, albeit as a fairly peripheral figure much of the time, during the recent Rugby Championship.

But he has only four caps, including just one start – when he blew rather hot and cold in the 23-17 away loss to Australia, before getting the chop for the follow-up Test against New Zealand in Christchurch.

If Coetzee wants an experienced customer to add to his Koch option at No 3, then his best bet, frankly, seems to be to re-examine either Marcel van der Merwe of Toulon or Montpellier’s gnarly old Jannie du Plessis.

Van der Merwe, still only 25, has played seven Tests for South Africa, and in his lone start against Argentina in Buenos Aires last year, just before RWC 2015, stood up very well to the “bajada” even if his cause was helped by destructive loosehead Marcos Ayerza not playing in the Pumas’ 26-12 Buenos Aires defeat.

At some 128kg, the former Bulls favourite, who started for Johan Ackermann’s SA ‘A’ side against England Saxons at George several weeks ago, brings a comforting amount of ballast for heavy surfaces.

But what about Du Plessis?

There is a pretty substantial school of thought that the Boks have – or at least should have -- moved on from the once Kings Park-based doctor, so often in the past a penalty liability at international level and only modest contributor  outside of the set-piece.

But the 33-year-old (he would turn 34 during the tour) does bring heaps of street-wisdom to the party, and his 70 caps since 2007 include as many as 20 on United Kingdom or European turf.

He is also right in touch with that environment through his activity in the French Top 14.

Big Jannie has not officially retired from internationals, and earlier this year Coetzee did, significantly, mention his name when he was similarly scouring for candidates during a period of uncertainty at tighthead, although the player was injured himself at the time.

Besides, too many “right shoulder” specialists on the Currie Cup scene this year still look far too raw to be thrown to the wolves on this particular tour where eking out some good results, however grimly they may be earned, is vital for national morale.

Desperate times call for “desperate” measures?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  jannie du plessis  |  rugby

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