Rossouw: Yes, he's best at lock
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Although that near-forgotten concept - a win - would be especially welcome on Saturday, the Springboks appear to be moving closer toward identifying the best positional slots for some of their more versatile forwards at the World Cup.
In a line-up changed fairly significantly for a variety of reasons to face the All Blacks in the Castle Tri-Nations Test in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, a standout feature is the makeup of the reserves - happily suggesting that stalwarts John Smit and Danie Rossouw, in particular, have finally been pigeon-holed correctly.
Neither makes the starting cut, after doing so against Australia in Durban, but this was an expected “rotational” move as they were among few of the team’s senior core to get full involvement on the away leg of the competition.
But the manner in which they are being deployed among the substitutes for the latest challenge strongly hints that Smit will not again be put through the relative indignity, as he focuses keenly on the requirements of hooker for RWC 2011, of being asked to assist in propping the scrum for the latter part of a game.
It bombed badly at Mr Price Kings Park, and it seems lessons have been learnt: with two props, Beast Mtawarira and CJ van der Linde, on the bench in a five-two split between forwards and backs, there is precious little chance that the veteran captain (though Victor Matfield takes temporary charge this weekend) will have to think about anything but the possibility that he replaces Bismarck du Plessis at No 2 at some point.
Just as wise, it seems, is the obvious signal that Rossouw will be the designated lock replacement against New Zealand, as Gerhard Mostert is withdrawn completely from the match-day 22. Expect Rossouw to get some game-time in the second row around the hour mark as his old Bulls ally Bakkies Botha takes a breather.
That is a tactic the Super Rugby franchise have successfully employed over the course of several seasons and there is no special reason to believe it will suddenly backfire at international level now.
Rossouw, for me, is first and foremost a Test-class lock, however useful the extra “loosie” string to his bow can be.
And with Andries Bekker ruled out of the World Cup, I believe the big man needs to be put in specialist lock mode with some urgency - he is easily the most suitable back-up to Botha and potentially even for Matfield’s No 5 shirt should the need arise.
I view Rossouw, ever the exemplary squad man, this way: comfortingly mobile and suitably rugged as a lock, yet perhaps not quite speedy or dynamic enough for the modern demands of loose forward on dry, firm fields.
The start Willem Alberts - another big, bruising No 7 - gets against New Zealand after recovering fully from injury gives the Sharks player an opportunity to confirm his own credentials for a berth among the Bok back row at the World Cup.
Alberts, a decent schoolboy all-rounder at cricket, arguably boasts superior hand skills to Rossouw, who can also be a bit upright at times as he goes into contact as a blindside flank.
And the Boks lose absolutely nothing in physicality and formidable leg drive, of course, with Alberts assuming that spot ...