Cape Town - An embarrassment of riches at hooker ... still
some issues right next door at tighthead prop, though.
Not unlike Springbok squads of the pretty recent past, the
latest one revealed by coach Heyneke Meyer this weekend - generally warmly
received for its deft balance between emerging youth and proven experience -
only serves as another powerful reminder of how magnificently stocked the South
African cupboard is in the No 2 position.
At the same time, the job of ensuring the important right
shoulder in the scrums at tighthead prop remains one marked by doubt and
instability should incumbent Jannie du Plessis, 30, either lose his lustre
violently or succumb to injury.
In truth, there is a relative dearth of quality No 3s the
world over, meaning that the best of them also tend to get overplayed - Du
Plessis is no exception, and the Sharks’ awful levels of absenteeism across the
playing positions this year have meant an undesirable strain once more on his
body and mind.
He can be excused if he has shown a tendency, either
knowingly or unwittingly, to pace himself to some degree this year, although
his A-game may well be required against the Italians, who share with several
other Six Nations teams a keen, uncompromising scrummaging ethic.
A few weeks ago, there seemed good reason to assume that Du
Plessis’s Sharks colleague Wiehahn Herbst had pushed himself to the front of
the queue to be the designated Bok No 3 back-up ... but his best form has
slightly tapered off at a bad time more recently.
It has meant a rather sudden elevation to the Test picture
for the Cheetahs’ Super Rugby tighthead Lourens Adriaanse, a selection that
will be greeted with special smiles in both Bloemfontein and not-too-faraway
Kimberley, where Adriaanse is contracted to Griquas for Currie Cup purposes.
At 25, the 115kg and relatively stockily-built Adriaanse is
a bit like a bottle of three-year-old shiraz: developing nicely, but still with
room for further maturity.
Meyer cannot be blamed for fast-tracking the Paarl Gym and
Maties product, given the dearth of really good tightheads domestically and
taking into account that the even younger Frans Malherbe (22) of the Stormers
is currently sidelined.
Similarly, there oughtn’t be major objections to Adriaanse’s
Cheetahs colleague Trevor Nyakane, a specialist loosehead, also getting a
maiden call-up, although he is likely to be only third cab off the No 1 rank at
this stage behind Beast Mtawarira and another favourite from Bloemfontein, the
behemoth Coenie Oosthuizen.
If Saturday’s Super Rugby derby between the Cheetahs and
Bulls confirmed one thing, even as they bossed most other departments in a
well-merited victory, it was that the Pretoria-based franchise have some
ongoing scrum woes.
Certainly the halo of
someone like Werner Kruger, their seasoned tighthead, has continued to only
slip - not too long ago he was a regular part of the national squad furniture
(he has seldom shirked work in open play) but his name is likely only to have
come up cursorily in Meyer’s thoughts this year as execution of his chief duty
has been poor.
As for the immeasurably rosier hooker situation, the Boks
will almost certainly feature the yeoman Adriaan Strauss in the jersey for the
first Test of the winter against Italy in Durban on Saturday, with Chiliboy
Ralepelle as a suitably mobile back-up resource on the bench and the steadily
rehabilitating Bismarck du Plessis presumably desperately close to a slice of
the action after many months of inactivity with his serious knee injury.
This Saturday may be a tad too soon to expect last year’s
first-choice Du Plessis (considered by many the world leader in his trade
before his 2012 mishap against Argentina at Newlands) to feature in the Bok
match-day squad, although if he gets an enthusiastic medical go-ahead you never
It is a comforting thought that three excellent players take
care of this very specialist department for the Springboks, and that still
lurking just on the outside is someone like fit-again Tiaan Liebenberg.
The robust Stormers stalwart put in a second industrious
showing on the trot since returning to the middle of their front row, helping
ensure front-foot status for his team in the clash with the Kings in hideous
Newlands conditions on Saturday.
Before too long Liebenberg’s freshness, considering his own
prior layoff of several weeks, may become an attractive proposition to Meyer
again, especially as Strauss has been fielded to the point of exhaustion by the
Cheetahs and needs clever “management” for the remainder of the season.
If Liebenberg is South Africa’s current fourth choice at
hooker, several other countries have reason for significant envy ...
Forwards: Lourens Adriaanse, Willem
Alberts, Arno Botha, Marcell Coetzee, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis,
Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Juandré Kruger, Lappies
Labuschagne, Francois Louw, Beast Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen,
Chiliboy Ralepelle, Pierre Spies, Adriaan Strauss, Flip van der Merwe.
Backs: Gio Aplon, Bjorn Basson, Jean de
Villiers (captain), Juan de Jongh, JJ Engelbrecht, Bryan Habana, Francois
Hougaard, Zane Kirchner, Pat Lambie, Willie le Roux, Lwazi Mvovo, Ruan Pienaar,
Jan Serfontein, Morné Steyn, Jano Vermaak.
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