Cape Town – Amidst mounting criticism over other aspects of
his formula, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer can at least grapple with one
pleasant dilemma ahead of the next Castle Rugby Championship match against
Australia at Loftus in just under two weeks.
Eben Etzebeth or Flip van der Merwe for the No 4 lock spot?
As things stand, it looks like a bit of a “win-win” sort of predicament.
Etzebeth becomes available again for the Pretoria fixture
after serving what effectively amounted to a one-match suspension for his
apparent head-butt on the Wallabies’ veteran second-rower Nathan Sharpe, now
their acting captain again after Will Genia’s knee-injury misfortune.
Clearly Meyer, like so many other people, sees the
astonishingly still only 20-year-old Stormers combatant as a special investment
for a new Bok era, and has fielded him more or less unceasingly in his maiden
full first-class season.
He was also having a prominent personal game ahead of his
Etzebeth’s offence (there is still no certainty that he
actually made contact with Sharpe, who reacted theatrically) has broadly been considered
more “forgivable” than the subsequent Dean Greyling face-smash on All Blacks
captain Richie McCaw.
But at the same time Meyer has re-emphasised in the wake of
the second flashpoint his insistence on sound discipline.
He may just wish to underline that by restricting Etzebeth
to the bench at Loftus and letting him loose again at a more advanced stage of
the contest as a small further signal of disapproval for hot-headedness.
If he did so, it would be comforted by the knowledge that
Bulls lock Van der Merwe played arguably his best Test match as a starting
component – he has only done so four times in earning 18 caps thus far – and
was part of a Bok pack who, collectively, slightly edged the engine-room duel
Van der Merwe claimed a few lineouts, had a high tackle
count, and added his beefy presence to the South African superiority in the
It was also illuminating to see the 27-year-old, who has a
bit of a reputation for being a penalty liability and is no complete stranger
to the yellow card, go about his work with supremely controlled, constructive
Of course these things are subjective, but for the record
Van der Merwe, Francois Louw and Adriaan Strauss topped the Bok ratings out of
10 on the Sport24 scorecard with tallies of seven each from the frustrating
21-11 loss at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
My money, nevertheless, is probably on Etzebeth returning
straight to the second row – where Meyer may, incidentally, still be less than
entirely clear in his mind over which of Juandre Kruger or Andries Bekker more
deserves the “athletic” No 5 shirt – but with the knowledge that the more
experienced Van der Merwe has sounded out fresh credentials impressively.
And that can only be a good thing, can’t it?
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