Cape Town – If South Africa, buoyed by the luxury of an
unchanged starting XV, beat England at Twickenham on Saturday, coach Heyneke
Meyer will know that he’ll be able to amble the malls back home for his
Christmas shopping relatively free of public dissent.
An unbeaten end-of-year-tour, not something the Springboks have
managed often, will go a long way to muzzling the fairly widespread
disaffection with the cautious Bok playing style for meaty parts of his 2012
Lose to the English – still arguably the team South Africans
least like playing second fiddle to – and the poor fellow will be back to
square one, in many respects, and far likelier to cop an earful from
know-it-alls in the checkout queue.
So the stakes are pretty high as the Boks brace themselves
for their 12th and last assignment of the year ... and not just for
Assuming they conquer “Twickers”, no matter how that is
actually achieved, the majority of players Meyer took on tour with him – though
obviously predominantly those who actually got decent game-time – are likely to
be viewed in a favourable light when the international programme gets underway
An added incentive for incumbents, however, is that several
stalwart Springboks presently in varying stages of injury rehabilitation will
have filtered back into contention, their number presumably including such
names as Bryan Habana, Schalk Burger, Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira,
Heinrich Brussow, Johan Goosen, Pierre Spies and Andries Bekker.
So the heat is on certain representatives of the start-out
team at Twickenham, who may be described as not quite “indispensable” to the
cause right now, to make a compelling mark against England, which could sway
their levels of national-team deployment (or inactivity) in 2013.
Into that category might fall fullback Zane Kirchner --
efficient defensively but still conspicuously muted in an attacking capacity --
left wing Francois Hougaard, centre Juan de Jongh, flyhalf Pat Lambie,
scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar, lock Juandre Kruger and loosehead prop Gurthro
Who, by contrast, are the genuinely “nailed down” Boks in
the current first XV?
JP Pietersen has been
excellent all year and, with a view to next, may just be the only backline
player to merit such status – as much as anything, a statement about the
relative sterility of Bok offensive play.
Depending on Meyer’s longer-term thinking, his staple,
heavily-worked captain in 2012, Jean de Villiers, may well fall into that
bracket of confidence as well; my slight reservation is largely on the grounds that
De Villiers turns 32 in February and is heading for his twilight.
The pack contains a far greater batch of players who deserve
to be top picks in their positions or at least hugely worthy rivals to expected
returnees next season: they would include the entire loose trio seeing service
together again on Saturday, that sensational second-row find Eben Etzebeth,
plus undoubtedly world-class front-rowers Jannie du Plessis and Adriaan
Particularly for someone like Lambie, who left the jury very
much undecided after his so-so showings in the key flyhalf slot against both
Ireland and Scotland, Twickenham is an important personal date.
It will not have escaped Lambie’s notice that coach Meyer
has demoted Morne Steyn, who he once trusted so resolutely, from the bench this
weekend, in favour of someone whose playing style is probably closer to the
Sharks customer’s – so if Lambie fails to meaningfully “spark” at Twickenham,
Elton Jantjies may earn some second-half service in one of rugby’s most
For the most part, the Bok coach does not warrant criticism
for his decision to overwhelmingly favour continuity of a winning habit for
Saturday’s match, however much the Boks lost their front-foot lustre in the
second half against the ordinary Scots at Murrayfield.
And while the howls of protest over the low-on-entertainment
playing formula over the course of the first two Tests on this venture are
understandable and justified to a major degree, one thing that is apparent from
the side Meyer will field in London is that he has certainly “evolved” it in
several ways, from a personnel point of view, since the last meeting between
the countries at Port Elizabeth back in late June.
For those who suggest he is “stubborn” or even “arrogant”,
he has actually bowed to common sense by gradually marginalising such players –
from the rather grim 14-14 draw in a dead-rubber game – as ineffectual
halfbacks Steyn and Hougaard (albeit now stationed at No 11) and the cumbersome
flank Jacques Potgieter.
A midfield pairing of De Villiers and De Jongh for
Twickenham is also likely to find broader public favour than the alliance at
the time of De Villiers (then still at less ideal outside centre) and Wynand
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