Bok tight 5: murky future

2009-11-04 08:28

Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Brute strength, competitiveness and “mongrel” among the tight five has long been a central pillar of South Africa’s status as a world rugby superpower.

And, especially with their peerless locks Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha intending to still be around for another World Cup crack in 2011, there ought to be no violent slip in standards up to and including the New Zealand-staged extravaganza.

Delicate management of these veterans will be important over the next two years, and captain John Smit getting better with increased exposure to his taxing new role as tighthead prop will also be a key wish within the camp in the lead-up to the Springboks’ title defence.

It is probably fair to say that Smit is not yet clear of the woods in convincing all scrummaging observers that he cuts the right-shoulder mustard: the imminent trio of European Tests will provide several crucial further clues.

The inspiring Bok leader looked as though he was beginning to dispense the correct medicine at scrum-time against Tony Woodcock and company in the fitting Tri-Nations climax at Hamilton several weeks ago, but then he and his international front-row colleagues Beast Mtawarira and Bismarck du Plessis had some disconcertingly traumatic moments in the boiler room during the Absa Currie Cup run-in.

That said, it has been a near-unprecedented season in workload terms for the leading Boks, and it may be correct to assume that physical and mental tiredness has taken at least a partial grip among core members of the pack – it may even be apparent anew against France, Italy and Ireland during November, for what I feel is largely a “lose-lose”, banana-peel expedition in many respects.

Whatever happens in the northern hemisphere, however, South Africa’s best tight forwards ought to re-assemble with their Super 14 franchises reasonably revitalised in the new year.

The cream of them have no special reason to fear any global comers, when you think back on some magical – albeit notably inconsistent – 2009 scrumming moments, in particular, against the British and Irish Lions and then New Zealand during the Tri-Nations. (With the destructive, squat Benn Robinson to the fore, the Wallabies provided pockets of serious angst for the Boks in this area.)

Succession issues

It is post-2011, succession issues in the Springbok engine room that worry me rather more … a view only enhanced in my mind by what I feel have been some illogical and uninspired “back-up” selections for the European visit.

The 37-strong party picked for the five, varied tour matches answers, at least on early paper, precious few questions in terms of unearthing any young No 3 “anchors” of note or a next-generation, Botha-type enforcer in the second row.

Any stubbly forward guru will remind you that the right side of the scrum, after all, with a key emphasis on the tighthead and the brawny right-hand lock immediately behind him, is vital in terms of gaining a precious foothold.

And your “barn door” lock is also a valuable component in hitting the rucks powerfully - a la Bakkies again - and generally getting in opposition faces in the netherworld.

A glance at the Bok tour party suggests there is no special fresh promise on the horizon in either department.

Beefy, ever-reliable Danie Rossouw will comfortingly be the “balancer” against Leicester Tigers on Friday for the more Matfield-like Andries Bekker in the second row, although, a year older than Botha at 31, he is hardly a long-term Bok prospect.

The only other specialist lock in the group, controversially, is Alistair Hargreaves, who seemingly fits far more closely into the Bekker/Matfield category: the Sharks rookie has had very little game-time this season, mostly because of injury, although at 23 he can at least be considered to “have a future”.

But he is a 2.01m stringbean, listed in this year’s Super 14 media guide as tipping the scales at a less-than-gargantuan 103kg.

Did it really make sense to take another cruiserweight “athlete” on tour - especially to the heavy fields of Europe - when Bekker, clearly, is earmarked for the looser, lineout-conscious Matfield role down the line?

I thought Bekker went a long way, in the Currie Cup semi-final, to quelling fears that he may just be too much of a “gallop about the park” customer, by mixing his game commendably against the physical Bulls pack.

But it is still vital that a player like him is partnered by a robust, no-frills, strong-shoving lock to make any alliance actually work.

Made little sense

Granted, from a Bok selection point of view there aren’t too many quality, youngish ones of that vein around, although giving Hargreaves, a former SA Under-19 captain, the nod over tough Sharks “front lock” colleague Steven Sykes made little sense to yours truly and many others.

The latter, after all, was a member of the Emerging Bok side which heroically held the touring Lions to a 13-13 draw at Newlands and he is only 25 himself: whatever happened to natural progression?

Speaking of which, the tighthead prop that raining, hailing night in mid-winter was the Bulls’ Werner Kruger, and he has slipped down the pecking order after not being wholly convincing in the Currie Cup or even prior to that in the Super 14 … an ordinary “junior Bok” selection, thus, at the time?

The immediate tighthead back-up to skipper Smit in Europe will be Jannie du Plessis, who has not yet won me over, either. (When last did you see him give any loosehead opponent a truly uncomfortable workout?)

Then again, he is possibly hampered by the difficult dynamic of sharing a franchise with Smit, meaning that, through “rotation”, neither truly gets a solid run in the team.

Worse, though, Bok coach Peter de Villiers tossed out a colourful pre-tour curveball by revealing that Heinke van der Merwe, the extremely promising Lions specialist No 1, will provide tour cover on the other side of the scrum!

In blasé fashion, he said he felt Van der Merwe had “the strength” to make the conversion: a bit like saying that because Jimi Hendrix was such a great guitarist he ought to be have been converted immediately into a drummer.

For crying out loud, why mess with a good thing? Or, if you do wish to see Van der Merwe – chronically game-stale at present after long-term injury, too – tried out at tighthead, why not attempt to persuade his franchise to dabble occasionally with the idea first?

This tour represented a wonderful opportunity to reward Cheetahs tighthead find WP Nel for an inspiring Currie Cup, and give him a trial run -- worth its weight in “experience” gold -- against some hardened, cynical European looseheads. Not cracking the group of 37? Poor stuff, period.

And the more I think about the decision to take along not one, but two Bulls “bench” hookers, the more I think it amounts to a fat slap in the face for the yeoman domestic endeavours of Tiaan Liebenberg and Adriaan Strauss, both of whose bullocking, fronting-up styles of play are nicely suited to European conditions.

So there are two reasons I am anxious about national tight-five prospects post-2011: a shortage of present, obvious resources in one or two of the positions, but compounded by naïve, muddled succession planning …


  • Sharky Andrew - 2009-11-04 08:55

    I reckon after the next world cup, we need to start from scratch, and select a core team of players in our next squad who will still be around by the 2015 WC, and stick with them no matter what. and build our squad round them. Similar to how Jake white built up his squad for the 2007 WC

  • FANIE - 2009-11-04 09:04

    Rob, you are now crying for the sake of it, all the "failure" coaches made the same mistake as you are now, forget the future, look at what you have today, and use only the best of the day. Peter Div made all of us swallow our words, sure he doesn't make any sense on an interview, but look at the score board! Go Peter!

  • D - 2009-11-04 09:07

    When you are springbok coach, you can select your own team and I bet people will object to some of your decisions! No one is ever going to select a squad that everyone agrees with!

  • Rugbyfan - 2009-11-04 09:09

    Regarding your comments on Jannie du Plessis - lets just be straight about this - he never backpeddles and he almost always gets the right shoulder. Thats more than you can say about John Smit. du Plessis is a hell of a lot more solid than most comers in SA. His major shortcoming is his ball carrying, which is average at best. But you cannot accuse him of being non solid in the scrum.

  • bobbo - 2009-11-04 09:13

    It's called clever coach syndrome. All coaches suffer from this problem - from school all the way to the top. The need to make a selection that makes no sense to anyone but themselves. Remember Nick Mallet and the Skinstad/Teichmann selection. Jake White had his moments too. They get paid to be cleverer than the rest of us.

  • Gtr - 2009-11-04 09:13

    Ja, as a Bull supporter I also have think hard why Chilliboy and Bandisu are touring with. Tiaan Liebenberg and both the Strauss cousins are far more deserving of the Bok call up. Sorry, Ralepele and Maku seems to be 'quota' players'. There is no other explanation.

  • Herewegoagain - 2009-11-04 09:23

    Not again - now a loosehead for a tight head - for goodness sake - we've already got a scrumhalf who doesnt know where he's playing, a hooker who's battling at tighthead...cant we develop a decent tight head - WPNel should be there!!

  • Eugene - 2009-11-04 09:23

    I have been thinking about the Bakkies replacement. Deysel that massive hulking and aggressive sharks flanker strikes me as a young Bakkies Botha. I would be interested to see his stats and compare those with the Bakkies. I think we have too many flankers for Deysel to try and stay in that position. Comments? admittedly, I don't know his physical stats, but the man is impressive.

  • Roger Jonkers - 2009-11-04 09:24

    The springboks are hopeless, they won't win any games on this end month tour.

  • jj - 2009-11-04 09:42

    Guys lets sieze the moment and honour and enjoy the best Rugby bok side ever! John is the best captain ever and we all know ever ship needs a cabable captain! Tomorrow will take care of itself we have ample talent in S.A Lets keep the hipe going

  • Dude - 2009-11-04 09:50

    There is a natural life cycle in every test squad. It happened to us after 1995, we were a force untill end 1996 and the laughing stock of the 1999 world cup. Engalnd went through it and came out of it, New Zeeland wnet through it and came out of it, Aus is currently going though it and will come out and we are heading to it . its going to happen like it or not

  • JC - 2009-11-04 09:53

    Excellent article, Rob. You hit the nail on the head. Bekker is obviously earmarked to take over from Matfield, so it would have made sense to take a young work-horse along (like Sykes, or even Johan Muller). As for the front row, loving the Hendrix comment... Van der Merwe is an excellent and promising young loose-head, although you can't call Beast and Steenkamp old. Jannie du Plessis is the best tight-head in the country at the moment, but we should not forget about BJ Botha and CJ van der Linde in Europe. And Liebenberg and Adriaan Strauss can rightly feel snubbed...

  • emanuele - 2009-11-04 09:58

    The selection for this tour is a shocker and will only increase the drain of player resources to Europe. Players are not being rcognised for their performances and are being overlooked continously while other non-performers are being rewarded! What is going on with selection policy? It must be demorlaising for some players to be exposed to every season. Quotas must be brought to an end in sport. It is not working and we will slowly become the laughing stock of the world if it gets any worse than it is currently. Picking a hooker to lead the boks who has played a handful of games for his union and is clearly not within the best 5 hookers in the country! It is ridiculous!

  • Theunis - 2009-11-04 10:11

    John Smit is no prop and the fact the the free state was able to scrum the springbok front row into the ground shows that they are not the best combination in South Africa when it comes to scrum time.

  • Morne - 2009-11-04 10:16

    @Fanie, you seem to forget as quickly as PDIV, at the start of the same tour last year, good old PDIV in all his wisdom tried to be clever and it was to say the least disastrous. Only against England did we revert back to a sane world of rugby again and guess what, the scoreboard and our hearts where rewarded. Need I remind you further about the 3rd test fiasco against the Lions when PDIV once again got that distinct urge to think and be clever? You have to understand that our national coach has a programme error up-stairs and he always gets mixed up between thinking and F*(^ng up. He thinks he is thinking, meanwhile he is F*(^ng up. I am sorry for every comment posted on this site stating that certain selections makes no sense because the coach knows what he is doing and he has the track record and that we should just shut up. Or that somehow the undeserved players selected is somehow actually an excellent prospect and that he will shine in the international arena. I think it is a big load of bull. We all know that the South African National team has never and will never field the strongest team. In the old days we had “provincial racism” and now we just have “reverse racism”, which of course brings about absolute stupidity, hence the tight head selection!!!!!!!

  • Roger Jonkers - 2009-11-04 10:19

    @emanuele & JC *south africa did not and will not ever win the cricket world cup... maybe the rugby or even a true fan i can see you dont know what you talking about so please dont comment fool"

  • kampala - 2009-11-04 10:23

    @rogerjonkers That's a great positive contribution!!!! Hope you did not put money on that...

  • Brett - 2009-11-04 10:24

    Excellent article! We are very very lucky in this country to have the depth of talent that despite the selection controversies which we almost always have, we still manage to do well. P Div has often spoken about the post 2011 plans etc, but then he chooses this back up squad?! I agree with Fanie, in that Div has done very well, so maybe he knows something we don't about his selections, but some are indeed starnge! I don't agree with Sharky Andrew - Why not build on our core squad right now and phase them in immediately?

  • Jan - 2009-11-04 10:41

    Beast,Guthro, (and other looseheads) are seen to disrupt the scrum by falling and then push up and bind again. Some ref's have picked up on this. Guthro also avoid pressure by scrumming outside and then standing up and not scrumming up. It will not take very long for teams and refs to figure this out. In france, SA once had to forfeit scrums...... I do not want to talk about this ever.

  • Cullart - 2009-11-04 11:11

    I think you guys forget that iv coached Heinke @ U21 so he has some insight. @ Morne, you seem to forget that Div landed us the trinations that Jake and a host of others before him failed. In your eyes he may be a lousy coach, but he has introduced some new players that would never have been seen under JW. Cant agree more with liebeberg and Strauss, but then again many people will say Kuun is a great hooker and IMO I think he is a good journeyman, nothing more !

  • @Roger Jonkers - 2009-11-04 11:18

    Get lost troll, back it up with some proper facts. This section of South African society that post like this annoys the beep out of me. I once said if I had a choice of either saving a sick dog or a person like Roger Jonkers (Including those South African All Black supporters) i would choose the dog.

  • kampala - 2009-11-04 11:21

    @emanuele Were you also a Gray Botha over John Smit fan? Why not just revel in the fact that we are no 1 in the world and our main Test side is legendary! It is GREAT to be a Bok Fan at the moment - BLOODY GREAT!!!!! Why not bring in a few youngsters in to experience touring..... it is the Main test side we should be looking at....

  • Yuusf - 2009-11-04 11:30

    Rodney Jonkers , please wake up and smell the coffee : )

  • Ron - 2009-11-04 11:34

    Rob ,your comments make a lot of sense .I CHALLENGE PDV and any other selectors that the players were a]selected on current form and b] strictly on merit.

  • Jaydee - 2009-11-04 11:54

    An unusual team pack to say the least...Lets see what the games transpire..

  • Graham T - 2009-11-04 12:37

    You can talk as long as you like about the scrum, but if you keep selecting players like Jacobs and JP Petersen , who cannot tackle players running at them , there will be weaknesses that the opposition exploits to our detriment--you can't afford to give away tries by poor defence.

  • Rob - 2009-11-04 12:40

    Roger Jonker... or should that be plonker? If you have nothing constructive to add, then shut the f@#$ up. I agree that some of the selections are a bit odd (especially Chiliboy captaining the midweek side), but so far he has come up with the results, so let's just sit back and enjoy watching our team win everything in sight.

  • Nick Armstrong - 2009-11-04 12:53

    Thanks for a good article again Rob! :) Simple answer to your last few questions mate - quotas. Fact. Free State are currently the best scrumming unit in SA - yet not one player from their tight 5 can make a Bok squad of 37??? Yet - Ralepelle and Maku?? Go figure. The biggest joke - is seeing the idiot say live on TV that the squad is selected "on form"... Hahahahahahahaha! Andries Strauss is the natural successor to John Smit - as hooker and captain. Wian du Preez is second only to Heinke vd Merwe in strength at loose-head. Heinke is a LOOSE-HEAD. End of story. He is our man to tame Carl Hayman. A Carl Hayman-led NZ front-row will annihilate the current Bok front-row. And that will lead to a pack in reverse - and game lost. Heinke; John and CJ vd Linde/BJ Botha is by far our strongest and best front-row. Beast; Bismarck and the other of CJ/BJ on the bench (with 8 subs, incl an entire front-row, coming into being). That's a brilliant starting front-row - with fantastic cover on the bench! Wian du Preez; Coenie Oosthuizen; Andries Strauss; Tiaan Liebenberg; WP Nel (and Jannie du Plessis) in the enlarged squad too. This, of course, is players selected on genuine rugby-merit only. Quotas, however, won't allow.

  • Tjaart van Zyl - 2009-11-04 12:55

    What will be next? Maybe another run for the loose head retreaded to tight head retreaded to the bench or somewhere in Gauteng SEPHAKA?

  • No prop - 2009-11-04 13:20

    If John Smit is not playing hooker anymore why is he still in the Springbok Squad? He can't scrum at prop. Another player that is picked on his performance in the past. WP Nel is way better then "Our Captain" and with guys like Bismark, Adriaan Strauss & Tiaan Liebenberg to name but a few, there is no place for him as a hooker.

  • kampala - 2009-11-04 13:47

    @no prop Whatever...cause it's not like John Smit's leadership has had nothin to do with our success over the last two years huh!?!?!

  • Tim - 2009-11-04 13:58

    I aggree with all that say that Smit is not the best scrummager, but then he is the best Captian in the country, now is having the best captian not better than having the best prop, me thinks so. Not one person can dispute this fact, a world cup and twice try nations winning Capt, will go down as one of the ledgends of the game

  • Raj - 2009-11-04 15:11

    Nick and Morne - PdV has a track record second to none....but still you seem to know more thasn him....the man has taken every major trophy since his inception ( can you read that word Morne) but you whites will never acknowledge that a cColoured guy is the best - it's too much to admit that your great white sport is headed by a non-white..... have some faith assholes....he is yet to be proven wrong...besides now is the right time to experiment with new talent so we can develop players - thats what he means by post 2011.....

  • Gerald - 2009-11-04 15:57

    For those of you saying Div has been making the right decisions... please note that many of the selections that were made Jacque Fourie, Heinrich Brussow and Morne Steyne came after injuries to his "preferred" players or such a massively terrible performance that he HAD to make the right decision. He was forced into the right selections. Just like with January not being available. As for those quota players he had on the bench - their impact was minimal as the starting 15 won the game usually. Not January, Jacobs or Ralepelle came on to make an impact - not once. It is laughable that Jacobs - an outside centre - is now being moved to inside and Wynand - bigger and stronger on defense - has to sit in the stands. Is all the rage not about defense? The very strategy Div wanted avoide? And then of course Earl Rose. Fortunate injuries and police summons will not always be on hand to safe us.

  • reg young - 2009-11-04 16:11

    It is a rather sad comment on the mental ability of rugby folk in general, not to realise that Roger Jonker is having you all on -- tongue in cheek, & you have all fallen for it!! He is obviously laughing fit to bust a gut!!

  • G - 2009-11-04 17:13

    @Raj - your true colors are showing buddy. This is sport, not politics. But I suppose it's easy to get confused as most politicians do it too. You must be a Malema fan. @Roger Jonker - what can I say, you are either an idiot or you live in Oz/NZ, but I repeat myself.

  • Nick Armstrong - 2009-11-04 17:42

    @Raj - are you on pills mate? Let's look at the blithering idiot's record this year. Firstly - he doesn't even have the best flanker in SA by far (Heinrich Brussow) in his first squad - when his pedigree and form was perfectly clear from the first week of S14. Duh-Uh well done Pdv! (Not!) Remember his brainless substitutions in the first Test vs the B&I Lions? Duh-Uh well done Pdv!! (Not!) Then - he doesn't want Morne Steyn in the team - he stubbornly insists on Ruan Pienaar at flyhalf. Who saves the idiot's bacon in the 2nd Test at Loftus?? Morne Steyn! Duh-Uh well done PdV!! (Not!). Then again - he stubbornly persists with AD Jacobs at 13. Who re-invigorated the backline for the Tri-Nations?? Jacque Fourie. Duh-Uh well done PdV!! (Not!). The man is a stupid fool - carried along by the success and experience of the team itself. We all know the senior players are coaching/leading the team - common knowledge. Unlike Jake White - who had to re-build a team from scratch after the shambles of 2003 and Rudolf Straeuli - PdV INHERITED a RWC champion team. And the stupid fool managed to still come last in the Tri-Nations just 7 months later... Duh-Uh well done PdV!! (Not!). Hahahaha - I could go on here... I rest my case. But - no worries - let him 'take the credit' - so long as it "looks good for transformation" - and keeps his equally stupid ANC bosses happy - then so it is.

  • Bok Supporter - 2009-11-05 10:27

    @Raj: stop smoking your socks! Like Nick says, PdV took over a BRILLIANT team. He most definitely not perform the role of "head coach" in Bok rugby, he is a player manager - and a very good one at that! Lets think why he wants to "convert" Heinke(by a country mile our best loose-head in the country), by putting Heinke @ #1, it means Beast drops out the starting line-up. Putting John back @ #2, means Bismarck drops to the bench and out the picture goes Chilliboy & Bandise(two laughing stocks of our touring squad - ahead of Liebenberg & Strauss on "merit" LOL). Bring back CJ vd Linde(and/or BJ Botha), yards ahead of any other #3 in this country. So then our front row(with subs looks as follows) #1: Heinke, #2: John(cannot go without his leadership qualities, even though there are better hookers than him), #3: CJ/BJ. Bench R#1(Reserve #1): Beast, R#2: Bismarck, R#3: BJ/Guthro. Oh look...that's not gonna work for the ANC! OOPS...

  • T - 2009-11-06 10:20

    Here we go again... Criticise and give PdV hell before and during the Lions series; congratulate and retract comments after. Criticise and give PdV hell before and during the Trinations; congratulate and retract comments after. Criticise and give PdV hell before and during the 2009 European Tour; congratulate and retract comments after?????????????? I wonder! We have got to be the pettiest, most short-sighted nation in the world with a one track mind!

  • garrick - 2009-11-06 13:36

    Oh Nick, poor old Nick stuck in the past cynical to the bone not a single constructive criticism bone in his body. The Boks have just had their most successful year in the history of the boks and he is still banging on about this is JW’s team blab bla bla …..yawn….. boring. These poor blokes stuck in the past blinkers on their eyes, always playing the reverse physiology race card give us Saffers a bad name. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a discussion. Most people actually enjoy having a difference of opinion but when it gets dirty and the finger pointing and race cards come out we as Saffers just look like total absolute idiots to the outside world. I can understand the splitting image song ‘I have never met a nice South African’, LOL, Now those in the know, all know that we Saffers are generally lovely people and it’s just a few narrow minded ones, stuck in the past “with the my way or the highway attitude” that bring us down. I am probably going to get some abuse for writing this, which I am ok with, as long as it’s CONSTRUCTIVE abuse. Guys (and girls), and you know who you are, lets try and make this a sports discussion page, less talk on politics, I am sure there are other blogs where you can vent your anger and frustration on how rubbish you think everything in the world is. All I can say is GO BOKKE, you’re the best, Div you crazy mothersucker but most of us Saffers are behind 100% even though we don’t always agree with your decisions; you have proved your worth. ….and Nick don’t mean to pick on you mate, I am sure you are a great guy and you obviously know your rugby, you just need to chill boet, less !!! and more ? ? and don’t let people work you up so much, that’s exactly what they are trying to do and they seem to be getting their way every time. Peace everyone!!

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