Rugby Championship

Can Brussow clean up McCaw?

2015-07-23 13:04
Heinrich Brussow (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – If this was a critical, late-stage World Cup meeting between those illustrious rivals the Springboks and All Blacks, both their starting XVs would probably differ substantially from the ones chosen for Saturday’s Test in Johannesburg (17:05).

The Castle Rugby Championship clash, which is a little less red-hot from a gravitas point of view on this occasion as RWC 2015 preparation and experimentation gathers steam, features respective teams arguably some five or more players shy of expected line-ups if the stakes were that crucial bit higher.

Yet it remains a seriously useful dress rehearsal of sorts; neither outfit will want to lose this one by a significant margin because that would bring psychological factors into play with the World Cup on the horizon.

Nor is there any notable shortfall in quality across the park in positional tussles ... here’s my selection of just four for Emirates Airline Park:

Heinrich Brussow v Richie McCaw

This, almost beyond doubt, is going to be the individual battle capturing most eyes on Saturday, considering the rather bolt-from-the-blue selection of Brussow, assumed by many to be “forbidden fruit” in the Heyneke Meyer tenure. The little terrier from Bloemfontein comes in from a four-year cold ... and maybe that is going to prove something of a disadvantage entering his pilfering scrap with the wily old All Black captain. I’ll say it again: it might be a luxury to expect 80 full-steam minutes from Brussow. Still, he boasts a formidable 3-0 edge in results terms from Test starts against the NZ legend, and 4-0 overall in All Black clashes (McCaw did not play at PE in August 2011). So the visiting skipper will be intent on bringing his own A-game here, not least because he must also contend with converted blind-sider Francois Louw, no slouch as a fetcher himself and the man who troubled him enormously when the Stormers once famously trounced the Crusaders 42-14 at Newlands.     

Eben Etzebeth v Brodie Retallick

Bolt the doors, nail down the chairs of the arena: if this was some sort of mixed martial arts contest, it would attract a rowdy, enthralled full house. (It seems it has in rugby terms anyway!). Two of the finest young lock forwards on the planet – both primed, touch wood, for maiden World Cups pretty shortly – get to grips once more. Of course Retallick has tended to command bragging rights in pure match outcome terms, but that doesn’t mean Etzebeth ever fails to have a full-blooded personal go at the reigning World Player of the Year. The 23-year-old Bok is back playing his best brand of rugby, so that helps his tough task against the All Black meanie, only five months his senior, at No 4. It will be bone-crunching at close quarters ... but remember that each man can easily double as a No 5-type second-rower, considering their fine, rampaging athletic skills in open play.

Jesse Kriel v Conrad Smith

The Jean de Villiers conundrum grows: whilst the intended RWC captain continues his dogged quest in WP colours (this weekend against the Kings in PE) to confirm his fresh suitability to the green-and-gold after his horrendous injury, the fresh-faced Kriel-Damian de Allende midfield combo continues to gradually blossom at the same time internationally. The latter is perhaps the more likely at this stage to be a starter at the World Cup, which is why I have pinpointed this specific tussle as so important for the versatile, Bulls-based dynamo Kriel. What better examination of your competence could you wish to have than from cerebral, street-wise All Black Smith? He may be 33 and holder of 85 caps since 2004, but advancing age has hardly dimmed his range of skills and sublime awareness. If Kriel prospers once more in this game, troubling Smith en route ... major box ticked!  

Bryan Habana v Ben Smith

You could argue that there’s not a whole lot left to learn about the 107-cap, 57-try Habana at Test level. What I felt we were happily reminded about nevertheless in Brisbane last weekend, was his ongoing zest and passion at Bok level. Habana was importantly involved in the lead-up to both SA tries in the heartbreaking, narrow defeat to the Wallabies and also sometimes produces moments of (often unsung or plain unnoticed) brilliant defensive alertness – a product primarily of his swollen experience. As a third World Cup campaign looms for this 2007 winner, he seems in a pretty good space and destined to be a key assuring presence for South Africa in England from mid-September. That’s a handy bit of knowledge as he polices on Saturday a certain Ben Smith, one of the most elegant and slippery runners with ball in hand in world rugby and co-captain of the Highlanders team which won the Super Rugby crown for the first time not very long ago ...     

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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