One can fully understand Springbok coach Heyneke
Meyer giving Duane Vermeulen as much time as possible to recover from his rib
injury. Without Francois Louw and Willem Alberts, he has not only been the
leader of an inexperienced Bok loose trio, but also been truly “undies outside
your shorts” herculean both with ball in hand, but especially at the breakdown,
where he leads the tournament stats with 5 pilfers.
A potential head to head with Kieren Read is
a thirst inducer of note. But in a game that is only about bragging rights, is
it really worth risking a player of this calibre and value? He obviously wants
to play, and one would expect nothing less, but is it not a perfect opportunity
to have a look at Schalk Burger at 8 and give Warren Whiteley a run off the
bench? A loose trio of Nizaam Carr, Burger and Marcell Coetzee would also not
be the worst experiment in the world, but perhaps not against the best side in
That said, there is a big break between the
Rugby Championship and the Bok’s first End of Year Tour game against Ireland, so
perhaps that is part of Meyer’s thinking. It might even be worth excusing Vermeulen
from that tour and giving both Whiteley and Carr a proper run in the UK?
Starting Bismarck du Plessis is an
excellent call. Adriaan Strauss is a classy hooker and did a good job last week,
but Bismarck, to my mind, is the best in the world. Apart from what he offers
at the breakdown, this Bok pack needs his brutal physicality to dominate in
order for the team to play the more ball in hand game they are starting to
This was made abundantly apparent against
Australia when Burger came on to replace Oupa Mohoje. Through intent, rather
than execution (I still don’t think he is quite the physical man-beast he was prior
to his injury and illness), he took on the entire Aussie side. He made yards,
committed more players to the break down, and allowed the backline to play with
go forward ball. It changed the game.
A slightly risky call to stick with Mohoje
given that he is not quite ready to dominate physically at the highest level.
Who would in their first Test match, though? And having made the call to select
him, it is only fair and right that he gets a second game, even if against the
Oh how tempting it must have been for the
conservative Meyer to have gone with Burger at 7, with Mohoje on the bench. No
one would really have blamed him, but this is a brave call that will resonate
with the player and team. The cynic in me does wonder what the coach would have
done had Vermeulen been fit and raring to go, though?
Speaking of temptation … Given the impact
of the bench last week in Cape Town, it must have been properly tempting to
start all 8 of them this week, but Meyer has got this one right. The modern day
game is a 23 man affair, and having 8 guys that can make such a huge impact on
a game is a fantastic weapon for a coach.
But no Bok bench will be able to save a
side that plays the same way against the All Blacks as they did in the first 70
minutes at Newlands. The Aussies kick the least of all 4 Rugby Championship
sides, so a structured and physical defence tends to do the job. The Wallabies
have kicked just 75 times out of hand in the tournament. The All Blacks are on
126, just 10 behind the Boks, but it’s the effectiveness of said kicks that
separates the two sides.
Kick aimlessly at the likes of Dagg, Smith
and Savea, and they will make you pay. Prepare not for the little grubber or
dink over the top that they used so well in Argentina, and you pay with points.
This is a strong Bok side that can live
with the best. This is a strong All Black side that is the best. But they have
travelled a long way, and already have the silverware in the cabinet. “Vat die
Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop who now heads up Tankman Media, and sprouts forth on all things rugby on the Front Row Grunt.
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