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Malherbe must seize Bok chance

2015-09-26 14:39
Frans Malherbe (Gallo)

Birmingham – Springbok impact man Frans Malherbe must be champing at the bit for a spell of constructive energy against Samoa here on Saturday.

One of the most clockwork-like substitutions in modern rugby Tests is that of the first-choice tighthead prop at about the three-quarter mark of any given contest, so at least he shouldn’t be under-prepared for infusion.

Almost regardless of whether he is prospering or floundering, the bull-necked unit in the No 3 jersey inevitably gets hauled off after roughly an hour’s service.

Somehow coaches seem to share a view, and some would call it a stubborn one, that fresh legs – and shoulders – are required on the tighthead side of the scrum at that point.

It is no different with the Springboks: long-time incumbent Jannie du Plessis is more than used to withdrawing from the fray on 60 minutes or thereabouts and that may well occur yet again in the key World Cup Pool B match against the Samoans at Villa Park here (17:45 kickoff SA time).

The 32-year-old veteran of three World Cups by now is almost certainly playing his last RWC – even if 36-year-old props in international rugby are not quite an extinct species – so every opportunity a deputy in the berth gets is also a foot in the door as heir apparent for the Boks.

Last weekend, in the nightmarish defeat to Japan in Brighton, Coenie Oosthuizen was preferred as understudy on the tighthead side, and conspicuously failed to cover himself in glory off the “splinters” as his late yellow-carding put the Boks heavily under the cosh ... they were sensationally undone by a last-gasp try in the corner.

There were two big front-row casualties in the aftermath of the Brighton disaster: first-choice hooker Bismarck du Plessis has had a spectacular, much-publicised demotion right out of the match-day squad after leaking a string of penalties, whilst the burly Oosthuizen is also confined to complete inactivity in the stands here after his ill-timed disciplinary lapse.

Into the latter’s reserve tighthead spot for a sudden must-win match for the Boks has come Malherbe, a move which will please many scrummaging purists as he is more of a “born” tighthead than Oosthuizen, who is primarily still regarded as a loosehead by trade, with versatile possibilities.

Until fairly recently, the 24-year-old from the Stormers/WP was widely tipped as next in line to Du Plessis for the tighthead berth, and if he makes his anticipated appearance against the Pacific Islanders for what will be his seventh Bok cap, a combination of assured scrummaging and liveliness outside of the set-piece should see him more regularly leapfrog Oosthuizen for a spot among the subs for the remainder of the pool phase, at very least.

The closing stages of matches have been an unfathomable Achilles heel for the Boks this year -- a situation that only raises the stakes for someone like Malherbe to enter the fray and produce some welcome, controlled industry to help get the Boks over the line against Samoa. 

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing. Rob is attending the pool phase of RWC 2015 to provide news and analysis for Sport24 readers.

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