Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Which Boks can 'go full 80'?
Durban - However comforting the confirmation on Thursday that the Springboks are right back in A-team mode, there is still a bit of a “wing and a prayer” element about them for the Castle Tri-Nations Test against Australia here.Click to BUY the Rugby World Cup Final 2007 DVD
Bag-loads of experience suddenly to pin home faith on, yes, but at the same time there are clearly still players carrying niggles and plenty of others who have not sampled a rugby match in its entirety for several weeks.
Not surprisingly, “getting through 80 minutes” was a fairly recurring theme at Thursday’s team announcement press conference in Umhlanga.
The Boks do not have the benefit of a Highveld environment on this occasion - something the Wallabies have traditionally found uncomfortable to deal with - so will be relieved to know that, with mild temperatures expected and humidity around the 70 percent level, their match-shy troops won’t be entering the sort of sauna that can make late-summer Super Rugby matches so gruelling in this city.
Considering the wealth of street wisdom and familiar positional combinations in the Bok line-up, coach Peter de Villiers said he does not expect his charges to be caught too cold in the early stages of the match: it is as the clock winds down that he may have greater cause to become more twitchy.
Apart from the unusually long layoffs many of the Springbok stars have had ahead of this match, men like Frans Steyn, especially, and Butch James have had little exposure to the fluidity of southern hemisphere rugby in recent seasons, coming out of the more grinding landscape of the European game.
And getting full matches out of certain others – Heinrich Brüssow and Fourie du Preez have not started Tests for the Boks in something approaching two years, for instance - may be considered a bonus.
Brüssow, the nippy fetcher, said on Thursday in reference to his short comeback stint off the Cheetahs bench against Western Province last weekend: “That was a great start for me; 20 minutes.
“I wasn’t that fit yet - we did a lot of rehabilitation overseas (Brüssow accompanied the weakened side for the away leg of the Tri-Nations but didn’t see action).
“Coach is giving me a start this weekend so hopefully I can play for about 60 to 80 minutes.”
Smart money suggests an hour is the likelier scenario, even if the Boks don’t have specialist open-side back-up on Saturday’s bench: it could be just the cue for Bismarck du Plessis to be introduced to the fray, even if the substitute hooker would almost certainly slot in at his preferred position.
Du Plessis is just as accomplished and committed as your average loose forward, after all, for effecting turnovers.
The other two starting Bok loose forwards, Pierre Spies and Danie Rossouw, were big fitness doubts earlier in the week - Rossouw after a gastroenteritis issue which may test his stamina late in the game.
And stalwart centre Jean de Villiers could also be said to be feeling his way back on Saturday: he confessed at the press conference that he “struggled a lot during Super Rugby” with his persistent groin injury.
“I feel I can get through 80; see how it goes.”
That “eighty” word again ... expect a pretty strong and versatile Bok bench to be asked to stay particularly smartly primed for possible intervention during much of Saturday’s clash.