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Loosie dilemma for Bok coach

2015-09-08 11:28
Willem Alberts (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Does Heyneke Meyer still consider Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen as his first-choice Springbok loose forward combination?

The answer should become apparent during the fast-looming World Cup ... although whether a reunion of that alliance occurs as quickly as for the Pool B opener against Japan in Brighton on September 19 seems fairly unlikely.

That is because the Bok coach will be only too aware that all three big units are notably short of recent game time, and it would be a risk to start with the entire “old firm” so soon.

While delivering another generally positive medical report from the camp on Monday, team doctor Craig Roberts did reportedly caution: “The guys have trained incredibly hard and are fit and lean but ... you want them to be game fit, because there is a difference between being training fit and match fit.”

In the case of the loose forwards mentioned at the start of this piece, none can be fully described as ticking the box for genuine match sharpness right now.

Both Vermeulen and Louw have been sidelined for many weeks, and although Alberts is the most recently active of the trio, having played more than an hour of the victorious last Test outing against Argentina in Buenos Aires in mid-August, the “Bone Collector” had been coming off an extended layoff of his own at the time.

You have to suspect that getting all three to run out among the starting XV in Brighton would be a dangerous move, even given the obvious historical limitations of the opposition there.

Louw has apparently begun taking fullest contact in training, with Vermeulen earmarked to do so imminently, but with game one now only 11 days away – and despite the latter’s publicly-expressed hunger to get stuck in – the robust No 8’s best bet might be an appearance off the bench to phase his way back into the swing of things at the tournament.

That could open the door for the ever-industrious, adaptable Schalk Burger to hang onto his role as acting eighthman for the moment; he has done the job soundly from the outset in all four Tests this year.

There is a strong case for the seasoned Burger retaining a berth somewhere in the starting trio anyway: unlike the others, the up-and-at-‘em character will certainly not be brushing off any cobwebs when the Japanese challenge occurs.

But if Louw and Alberts are given the all-clear for playing the lion’s share of that match, Vermeulen may be the likeliest to make an introduction at some point in the second half.

Meyer also has at his fingertips, of course, Siya Kolisi and the lock-cum-blindside-flank Pieter-Steph du Toit as loosie options for the Japan fixture.

Up to around the middle of last year, Meyer tended to be very favourably inclined toward the Louw-Alberts-Vermeulen combination as his premier back-row selection.

Yet for various reasons, and mostly related to individual fitness setbacks, their last start together was against Wales at Nelspruit on June 21 2014, when the Boks somehow clawed back from 0-17 down to sneak a controversial 31-30 win at the death.

There have been 15 further Tests since.

At least some part of Meyer must keenly wish to get them reacquainted quite speedily, though my guess is that Brighton may be a tad optimistic ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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