Div retains faith in Habana
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The possibility of further misery or a likely last chance in 2010 to get his Test-level act back together?
GALLERY: Springboks in training
You can bet Bryan Habana, the popular Springbok left wing, will be wondering about that as much as his legion of fans and more neutral observers, following his retention in the Springbok team to play Australia in their final Vodacom Tri-Nations assignment in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Speculation that the 27-year-old should be rested from internationals for his own good has been pretty rife for a while, and it would only have gathered steam as he stuttered his way through the crazily see-sawing Loftus game against the Wallabies.
As always, you could hardly have accused Habana of lacking heart. He does put his body on the line for the cause, even when his own game is as clearly off-kilter as a Ras Dumisani rendition of the national anthem after a smoke-athon in a crowded room.
But it has been that way for a while, and it is so evident that he is tortured and mystified by it – the way he shakes his head or puts his hands to the back of it is all the indication you need that he is asking himself: “What the blazes is going on here?”
There was fresh cause for personal - and broader, of course - consternation on Saturday, when he absolutely gift-wrapped a try for James O’Connor through his fumbling of a mundane kick collection, and was also partly culpable in Dean Mumm’s dot-down.
The recall to the squad after the Bok victory of versatile Western Province team-mate Gio Aplon seemed to suggest that Peter de Villiers and company might actually be on the brink of axing the seemingly “undroppable” 64-capper.
Instead Aplon starts his haul back to Bok favour off the bench, where he effectively replaces the injured Butch James.
But at least his mere presence among the substitutes places meaningful pressure on Habana to sharpen up his game if he is to get the full 80 minutes.
And maybe there is method to the apparent madness: if this follow-up against the Wallabies turns into anything even half as fast ‘n loose as the Pretoria meeting, opportunities for some overdue Habana torpedo-dives into the corner may just present themselves and start to turn his decidedly patchy winter around.
Aplon will be itching to get on the paddock, considering how unfortunate he was to be dropped after a better-than-respectable showing in all facets of play against the All Blacks in Soweto … and won’t Habana, for instance, know it!
Besides, the incumbent flier would be wise to take the approach that this is one final fling in a national jersey for the year – he is highly unlikely to be sent on the end-of-year-tour, given his chronic need for a rest -- and there is really little more for him to lose in ‘Bloem’.
The lone change to the starting line-up from Loftus sees veteran Danie Rossouw earn the nod for his 53rd cap ahead of much younger Blue Bulls colleague Flip van der Merwe, who in turn reverts to the bench.
Van der Merwe has staked some longer-term claims, but I am happy for Rossouw, who was one of few Bok standouts on the appalling overseas leg of the Tri-Nations and has hardly deserved to have to wear the No 18 jersey at times since.
His inclusion may also be a sign that the Springboks hope to put the brakes on the frantic Loftus tempo and inject a bit more, old-fashioned grapple and grind and set-piece play into this week’s clash for purposes of security …
15 Frans Steyn, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (captain), 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp
Reserves: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Juan de Jongh, Gio Aplon
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Television match official: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)