Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – South Africans are accustomed
to the “Blood Brothers” old firm of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha
consistently running out together for Tests against old enemies the All Blacks
in recent years.
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Between them they boast a reassuring total
of 177 Test caps, 105 to Matfield and 72 to his Bulls colleague and friend.
But at present they are presumably holed up
in what is spiritedly not being branded a “camp” in Rustenburg, as various
resting or rehabilitating Boks earmarked for the World Cup thrash out strategy
for the defence of the World Cup.
Suddenly it might be said the Springbok
management are “blooding brothers” instead: this follows their highly questionable
decision to pair the recent Sharks combination of Alistair Hargreaves and now
France-based Gerhard Mostert for the Castle Tri-Nations Test against New
Zealand in Wellington on Saturday.
First the good news: one will be more
senior than the other. Now the bad: Hargreaves has three caps to his name,
including two appearances off the bench, whilst 26-year-old Mostert – a year
ahead in age terms -- will debut against the most difficult foes imaginable and
in their own backyard.
It is not even as though Hargreaves and
Mostert boast a particularly good synergy from their Sharks days together – the
former has more customarily been in alliance with Steven Sykes, Leinster-bound
on a three-year deal, with the undoubtedly talented Mostert’s career disrupted
by long-term injury until fairly recently.
So it’s pot luck, really, as to how
effectively the latest Bok second-row firm gels on Saturday or, indeed, whether
they offer stout resistance to the anticipated black tide at all.
I am open to correction, but impromptu
thought and some initial research suggests to me that the Boks will probably not
have fielded such a rookie lock pairing since the country made its return from
isolation against the very same New Zealand at Ellis Park in August 1992.
Then, we had been rather deceived by some
parochial local critics into suggesting that, simply on the basis of their year-after-year
achievements in the domestic Currie Cup, Adolf Malan and Adri Geldenhuys would
quickly demonstrate their “world class” in maiden exposure to the real-deal
Instead the Boks were beaten 27-24 and only
made the scoreboard look respectable courtesy of two late tries as the All
Blacks slightly took their foot of the pedal in the last 10 minutes at altitude
– South Africa were also thumped 26-3 by the Wallabies in the wet at Newlands a
The host nation may be resting their
veteran hard man Brad Thorn for Saturday’s encounter, but will still sport the
gnarly, 62-cap Ali Williams at lock – a man who launched his Test career all of
nine years ago on the end-of-year mission to England, France and Wales.
And even Sam Whitelock, the promising
22-year-old from the Crusaders, seems a veteran in comparison to the Bok duo
with his 14 caps, albeit that only three of them have come via starts.
I know that Bok lock resources have become
massively depleted even subsequent to the decision to leave Matfield and Botha
at home, but find it difficult nevertheless to justify the retention of richly
experienced Danie Rossouw among the loose forwards rather than comfortingly
placing him that crucial bit closer to the boiler room for this occasion.
Without any disrespect to Messrs Mostert
and Hargreaves, for whom sheer inexperience is no shame, the Boks look
especially vulnerable at lock now.
I can only imagine the All Blacks plan to
cash in ...