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Boks: Lood now ‘undroppable’?

2015-09-22 15:32
Lood de Jager (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – You have just lost to Japan, for perhaps the worst result in your superpower country’s history.

So do you then sideline the man – vibrant, lanky Cheetahs lock Lood de Jager -- who was widely branded the best starting Springbok on view in the shocker, and arguably the lone one to meet pre-match expectations of him?

That is just one of many troubling thoughts likely to be on the mind of South Africa’s coach Heyneke Meyer in the early part of this week, as he turns his attention to Saturday’s second RWC 2015 Pool B match against Samoa in Birmingham.

There is huge pressure on him to orchestrate a swift bounce-back win, naturally, but in order to do so he is also quite understandably being urged to pick as match-sharp and mobile a combination as he can, to stave off the lethargy that too frequently marked the Brighton reverse.

Several of his experienced core players looked cumbersome after injury-caused layoffs, and the team as a collective paid a heavy price.

Nick Mallett is just one critic and former Bok coach who feels the Boks are best served in the second row against Samoa by fielding the relatively youthful combination of De Jager (reverting to No 5 this week) and Eben Etzebeth.

If considered fully fit – he made a 68th-minute appearance off the bench against Japan following his calf problem – staple No 4 enforcer Etzebeth seems a must-pick against the tough Pacific Islanders.

He is one of the indisputably world-class customers in the Bok ranks, and identified by many neutral pundits ahead of the tournament as one its likeliest tight-five shining lights.

But that leaves a bun-fight between the 22-year-old De Jager and the legend some 16 years his senior, Victor Matfield, for the five jersey this Saturday.

The situation may well be influenced by whether Meyer elects to restrict his labouring captain Jean de Villiers to the bench for this one – if he does go that route, it may be harder to simultaneously demote Matfield, his traditional next-in-line as skipper, to the “splinters” as well, although all of Schalk Burger, Fourie du Preez and Francois Louw offer credible leadership possibilities against the Samoans.

It might be pushing it a bit to add Duane Vermeulen to that intelligentsia, considering that if the uncompromising No 8 plays on Saturday it will be for the first time in 17 weeks and much more than a half-hour for him seems unrealistic.

Matfield is the Boks’ lineout commander, which obviously counts strongly in his favour, even if South Africa made some tactical gaffes even in that area of renowned strength against Japan, whilst opinions varied on whether the veteran performed decently in an overall capacity in Brighton – I felt he was one of the better ones in the pretty lamentable bunch.

Something that almost cruelly “penalises” De Jager, if you like, is the fact that he actually offers attractive credentials as an impact player when a game has opened up, given not only his bustling competitiveness in the tight-loose but potentially game-breaking athleticism in open play (evidenced in that soar-away 44th-minute try against Japan).

But the spring-heeled lock has been near-brilliant all Test season in 2015; it is going to seem harebrained to many if he gets the push from the starting XV.

Your call, Heyneke ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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