Rugby Championship

Boks: It’s a ‘fetcher’ frenzy!

2015-07-22 14:03
Francois Louw (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Three open-side flanks: that’s what you could argue Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has creatively gone in with for the acid examination from the All Blacks in Johannesburg on Saturday.

His starting XV for the Rugby Championship clash, as expected, features just the two necessary, injury-related alterations from the line-up which so nearly earned a morale-boosting away victory over Australia last weekend only to bungle it late.

Lood de Jager replaces Victor Matfield at No 5 lock - that move ought not to have cause too much head-scratching after the former’s inspiring hour or so off the bench in Brisbane -  but the big talking point is the sudden faith placed in the hands of Heinrich Brussow as a not exactly like-for-like stand-in for Marcell Coetzee.

Once thought to be doggedly averse to the nuggety little Cheetahs/NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes dynamo, Meyer also said at Wednesday’s team announcement that Brussow will be the specialist No 6, with Francois Louw shifting across to the blindside chore.

So much for the thoughts of a Bok coaching predecessor Jake White, then, that “fetchers are for beer” and the additional revelation that his sons have traditionally been no slouches at popping to the fridge to serve his thirst-related needs in that regard.

For all of Brussow, Louw, and newly-appointed acting captain Schalk Burger - who retains his own developing positional responsibility at No 8 - have decent prior personal histories as dedicated open-side pilferers.

Clearly the Springboks plan to hit the breakdowns purposefully, swiftly and destructively if possible against the world champions at Emirates Airline Park, where they edged these old foes 27-25 last season with a notably different-in-character starting loose forward combination featuring Coetzee, Oupa Mohoje and Duane Vermeulen (Burger later came off the bench in the 50th minute for Mohoje).

The trio selected for this occasion will be a good bit lighter, if you like, for ball-carrying grunt although in their varying ways all are notably adept with the “pill” in their hands anyway and Brussow is especially good, when away from his stealing duties, at sprightly linking in attacking moves.

There should be no special fears about the well-travelled Louw’s ability, either, to adjust quickly to blindside; he is no shrinking violet in the berth with the 114kg and 1.90m he offers physically.

That position is also where he largely started out his Super Rugby career with the Stormers in 2008, and Meyer is probably justified in suggesting of the Brussow-Louw flank alliance: “They are versatile players and I am convinced they will combine perfectly.”

The Boks sacrifice a bit in back-of-lineout menace with the restoration of Brussow for his 21st Bok cap after a long absence since 2011 – if he was quietly alerted to his choice on Tuesday, it was a fine 29th birthday present – but in other respects his recall will be very well-received in many quarters.

One drawback may be that, although he has a remarkably good engine, he is rather short of a gallop in game-time this year, given injury impediments, and it may be stretching it to expect him to be fire-and-brimstone for all 80 minutes on the Highveld against these famously up-tempo opponents.

So Brussow seems the likeliest man to make way at some point when lanky Warren Whiteley, operating at his home ground, earns expected impact action off the bench.

Apart from his pure, general playing abilities, Meyer may have been wooed into choosing Brussow here for his talismanic reputation against New Zealand: he has only ever tasted victory in four appearances, including three hugely influential ones in those heady days of 2009 when the Boks beat the All Blacks three times en route to their last Tri-Nations title.

What we are also witnessing once again, though, is evidence pretty contrary to the misleading perception in some circles that the national coach tends toward being a bit set in his ways.

Personally, I have never bought into that ...


South Africa:

15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger (captain), 7 Francois Louw, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira

Substitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Cornal Hendricks

New Zealand:


*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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