Cape Town – South Africa may still be minus the ruler of the
lineout world, Victor Matfield, but they will nevertheless put out some
unusually tall timber against Argentina in Salta on Saturday (21:40 SA time).
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s three changes to his
starting line-up for the Castle Rugby Championship second round fixture,
revealed on Wednesday, include the return of Eben Etzebeth as No 4 lock and –
after an infinitely lengthier absence – Juan Smith in the blindside flank role.
The pairing of Etzebeth (2.03m) with Lood de Jager (2.06m) in
the second row certainly gives hooker Bismarck du Plessis some big primary
targets to aim for at lineouts.
If anything, too, his longer throw-ins will now be to a more
formidable selection of loose forwards, given that in Duane Vermeulen and the
1.97m Smith the Boks also boast two of the finest exponents of the trade planet-wide
-- and even their open-sider Francois Louw is no slouch at plucking the ball
from the air.
Maybe a particularly concerted Bok lineout assault is
intended as a counter to a threatened, repeat bout of Pumas scrum mastery after
the angst they caused in that area at Loftus, although Meyer did remind in his
media release with the team announcement that “our lineouts are an important
attacking platform ... we need to improve this week”.
You suspect that should happen, not only due to the greater
collective height and variety of Bok jumpers this time around, but because
conditions look like being light years apart (“sunny and mild” is on the cards)
from those experienced in Pretoria, and the ball no longer a lottery-causing cake
The return of the 33-year-old Smith is easily the most
gladdening feature of the latest selection to those who admire not only his
wide-ranging rugby qualities but the sheer depth of quiet spirit that has got
him to Saturday’s line-up for the anthems and a personal 70th cap.
Subsequently ravaged by Achilles woes, which would have
permanently sidelined many lesser characters by now, the unassuming Free Stater
was still a twenty-something when he last started for his country against
England at Twickenham in November 2010.
His loose forward allies in that 21-11 win were Deon
Stegmann and Pierre Spies of the Bulls, both of whom are now some way off the
Test radar even if the latter is still in slow recovery from a long-term
But Smith has come roaring back for Toulon in all forms of
European rugby, and if at least partly to remind that class is permanent, the
Boks may be onto a very good thing with his involvement on Saturday against a
home side whose fire may need to be doused as early as possible.
Expect him to get stuck in with relish on that score, given
that there must be a good likelihood he will only be asked to operate for 50-60
minutes as he is a little short of game time.
The benching of loosehead prop Tendai Mtawarira, after just
one start since his recovery from injury, for veteran Gurthro Steenkamp may be
interpreted as a step by Meyer to indicate broader dissatisfaction with the
old-firm front row from the Sharks, who have arguably been in a little too much
of a comfort zone in recent times.
There is a case for saying that perhaps a jaded Jannie du
Plessis making way for Frans Malherbe might have been a better call if a minor
reshuffle was going to occur, but the latter may see generous service in the
second half anyway.
Wholesale retention of the backline that was involved in the
dour 13-6 arm-wrestle last weekend seems a commendable, stability-friendly
decision by the coach, potentially allowing the raw likes of flyhalf Handré
Pollard and outside centre Damian de Allende – both imperfect at Loftus – the
chance to thrive in more desirable dry-weather circumstances.
If the going gets nail-biting once more, the experienced
Morné Steyn could again provide useful calming input in the closing stages if
Bear in mind that in the absence of a specialist centre on a
remodelled bench, Pollard offers decent emergency possibilities in the No 12
channel, to which he is no stranger.
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