Boks in UK
Boks: Juan done disservice
Cape Town - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer
took a significant step forward in his team selection for the Test against Ireland on Saturday ... but then seemed so bewildered by his own boldness that he effectively pulled the leg back again.
Placing the precocious, multi-skilled Pat Lambie in the key flyhalf channel - Meyer has long maintained his best potential lies at fullback - was a gratifying move on Wednesday.
While you can never guarantee that a player will grasp an opportunity with both hands immediately, the possibilities for much-needed “renewal” in the Bok backline collectively now as a result of his inclusion might be described as endless.
Meyer is to be commended for probably going against his instincts, at least to some degree, in awarding the Sharks player with the string-pulling role.
Lambie is just such a different animal to someone like Morne Steyn, the more experienced but essentially conservative No 10 who nevertheless creeps back closer toward a starting berth by being included among the reserves for Saturday’s Dublin encounter (19:30 kick-off SA time).
That could be seen as debatable in itself: the Bulls man seems no natural fit for “impact” purposes, given his known reluctance to attack the advantage line.
It is tempting to believe that you either start with Steyn or don’t have him in a match-day squad at all.
That said, one of his most famous appearances off the bench came in the decisive second Test against the 2009 British and Irish Lions, when his pinpoint place-kicking from challenging distances or angles in the last 20 minutes at Loftus swung the game 28-25 in the Boks’ unlikely favour.
It can also be taken for granted that plenty of people, and most notably those from the staunchly transformation-focussed lobby, will be enraged - or something very close to that - by the fast-tracking of Lambie, however positive it is in a purely rugby sense, ahead of Elton Jantjies
The diminutive Lions No 10, who will see on-loan service with the Stormers in Super Rugby next year, took to the pitch under tricky circumstances when Johan Goosen cried off injured before halftime in the Boks’ last Test, against the All Blacks at FNB Stadium.
He could probably be described as having fared not especially badly, nor particularly well, on a day when the All Blacks lifted a gear in the second period and ran away with the game 32-16 to expose several more seasoned Springbok customers than Jantjies, it must be said.
In their official release accompanying the team announcement on Wednesday, SARU suggested that Meyer had “gone for continuity in selection”.
Certainly in the case of Jantjies, the word “huh?” enters the equation, although it could also be said with some conviction - and by extension in coach Meyer’s defence - that the left-footed phenomenon seemed to inexplicably lose confidence in the closing weeks of the Currie Cup.
A bigger public storm, I have no doubt, is going to rumble over the continued deprival of a start to Juan de Jongh, the in-form Western Province centre who was instrumental in the upset triumph for the “Streeptruie” in the final of the domestic competition.
It is scant consolation for De Jongh that he may see some action as a substitute, particularly if captain Jean de Villiers begins to “feel” his slightly troublesome hamstring on the expected heavy surface in Dublin.
Just what boxes doesn’t De Jongh tick for No 13 service, and alongside his provincial partner, for crying out loud?
He has always been the most tenacious of tacklers despite his relative lack of bulk and height, something only confirmed in the Durban showpiece less than two weeks ago.
And with South African backline play in general quite widely considered to have stagnated to a depressing degree, he is a delightful buck-the-trend component.
The 24-year-old just has a penchant for manufacturing tries out of seemingly nothing with his natural swerving and sidestepping, and at the very least is an undisputed midfield specialist: instead Meyer has opted to stick with utility man Jaco Taute (sensibly earmarked for the Stormers fullback role in 2013, it appears) as De Villiers’s partner on Saturday.
Taute is a talented and mercurial rugby player, make no mistake, and is even quite capable of playing a starring role at Aviva Stadium, but he didn’t look more secure defensively than any backline colleague when the Boks got their worrisome working-over from the world champions a few weeks ago.
In the eyes of many relatively impartial observers, the more logical move against the Irish would have been to play Taute at fullback in place of the industrious but rather one-paced Zane Kirchner
, thus freeing up a spot in the XV for De Jongh.
For the time being, then, the northern hemisphere may not get to see the last-named player’s nifty “Gangnam Style” try celebration.
But perhaps we should simply be grateful for small mercies right now in the form of Lambie getting his crack at pivot.
Warts and all, considerably worse Springbok sides have been picked down the years; let’s not lose sight of that.
Meyer’s combination, especially at forward, appears capable of dousing the Irish fire.
It is if the Boks get their tour off in losing mode that the excrement is far likelier to hit the fan with some force, and the coach knows that.Teams:
15 Zane Kirchner
, 14 JP Pietersen
, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Francois Hougaard
, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Ruan Pienaar
, 8 Duane Vermeulen
, 7 Willem Alberts
, 6 Francois Louw
, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth
, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss
1 Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Marcell Coetzee
, 21 Morné Steyn, 22 Juan de Jongh, 23 Lwazi Mvovo
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