Tri-Nations

Boks go green in second row

2011-07-28 10:00
Alistair Hargreaves (Gallo)
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 international arena.

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 week later.

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 ...

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