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    Combrinck roars back to Bok frame

    2017-07-31 13:00

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – The Springboks, somewhere amidst their pretty wet-behind-the-ears back three, may well need to make fresh room shortly for Ruan Combrinck.

    A vibrant all-round performance from the right wing should not be allowed to go under-appreciated, amidst the broader team qualities that sparked their fabulous comeback to grill the Hurricanes 44-29 in a Super Rugby semi-final at Emirates Airline Park on Saturday.

    After the early, team-wide defensive alignment difficulties which went some way to explaining why the ‘Canes opened up a 22-3 lead at one point in the first period – it turned out that the visitors more or less ran themselves off their feet in the thin air during that time – Combrinck was as convincing as any colleague in gradually discovering his A-game during the stirring Lions retort.

    He looks suitably primed now to go into battle in the enticing showpiece (Saturday, 16:00) at the same venue against the Crusaders’ own dangerous, similarly in-form wide man on their left, Seta Tamanivalu.

    The Fijian-born customer, 25, who has earned three All Black caps thus far as a substitute, confirmed his strength (he tips the scales at 105kg) and nose for the try-line as he dotted two of the four ‘Saders tries in their 27-13 semis triumph over compatriots the Chiefs.

    Tamanivalu will require some policing but plucky Combrinck is well capable of performing that task, and quite possibly getting behind his direct opponent to create comparable angst for the visitors on defence as well.

    His confidence should be high, as he demonstrated against the Hurricanes that he has regained – since various injury-linked setbacks over the past year or so – much of the appetite and sharpness that saw him earn his own maiden appearances for the Springboks in the troubled 2016 season.

    The 27-year-old quickly showed his mettle in the desperately tense home series against Ireland, won 2-1, but then lost some form, parallel to the fortunes of many team-mates, as the Boks progressively wilted – he was part of the side on each occasion as the Boks crashed to England, Italy and Wales on the dispiriting end-of-year tour.

    After missing a significant chunk of the latest Super Rugby campaign, Combrinck has been building a renewed head of steam in recent weeks during Super Rugby, and oozed constructiveness in virtually everything he did on Saturday.

    His comeback was just too late to bank a berth in the Bok side for the vastly improved 3-0 clean sweep of France during June, although he did represent SA ‘A’ against the French Barbarians to earn valuable game-time in his steady climb back to his best.

    In the captivating Super Rugby semi-final, Combrinck was handily like a second fullback – always the sign of a particularly educated winger – with his track-back work on defence and ability to boot raking touch-finders or general field-gain kicks.

    On this occasion, kicks off the tee as a “deputy” to Elton Jantjies (far more convincing again in all respects again) were not required, although the value of his successful, high-pressure strike from long distance to steal the quarter-final against the Sharks a week earlier will be remembered as monumental if the Lions do go all the way to the main silverware against the seven-time champion Crusaders.

    But his slipperiness on the front foot against the men from Wellington was striking, too, a situation highlighted by his magnificent chip-and-collect midway through the second half, an event which led to the pivotal yellow-carding under major defensive stress of Beauden Barrett; frankly, it looks that bit more cynical every time you view it.

    In order to muscle his way back to a Bok start, Combrinck – who could feasibly be looked at for the No 15 shirt as well -- will naturally need to unseat any of Raymond Rhule (the slightly iffy, incumbent right wing) or Lions franchise-mates Andries Coetzee or Courtnall Skosan who have not yet confirmed true international mettle either.

    I would submit that the back three remains arguably the area of the Bok brew with the biggest remaining question marks, so he is worth serious contemplation by Allister Coetzee for any of the No 11, 14 and 15 jerseys.

    His broad range of footballing attributes seem tailor-made for the premier-league demands of the looming Rugby Championship.

    Renewed perusal of what he offers will become even more of a necessity if Combrinck, who is developing a nice little habit of excelling against New Zealand opposition, shines once more in Saturday’s final …

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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