Rugby Championship

Bissie or Flo could lead Boks

2014-08-05 23:06
Francois Louw (Gallo)
Cape Town – Bismarck du Plessis and Francois Louw shape up as likeliest candidates to lead South Africa at the start of the Castle Rugby Championship ... if the current worst-case scenario becomes a reality.

Duane Vermeulen is another with some captaincy credentials, although perhaps a dark horse for the role at this stage.

The Springboks have embarked on their preparation for the opening fixture against Argentina at Loftus on Saturday, August 16, with a sudden haze of uncertainty over the skipper’s role.

This follows revelations from the camp on Tuesday that veteran lock Victor Matfield, who led the troops in the June Test window, has been ruled out of the Pretoria clash – at least – with a knee problem.

Aggravating the situation is that regular captain Jean de Villiers has not yet been given confident medical clearance that he will be able to resume his duties against the Pumas, after several weeks off with his own knee injury.

Bok sources have indicated that a decision on the midfielder’s readiness will only be made later in the lead-up period.

It is an unsettling development, especially when it is considered that other senior players with attractive captaincy possibilities like Japan-based Fourie du Preez and Schalk Burger are out of the mix.

Scrumhalf Du Preez is ruled out through injury for the rest of the year, although the sometimes Stormers skipper Burger becomes available a little deeper into this year’s Championship.

So it may well be ventured in some circles that there is a “crisis” of sorts for the job of leading the troops onto the Loftus turf on Saturday week, if De Villiers is forced to stay on the sidelines for the time being.

That would be an exaggeration, however: in Louw and Du Plessis, particularly, lie pretty decent emergency leadership skills.

Bath-based flanker Louw is highly regarded for his captaincy at his English Premiership club, and was spoken up by Bok coach Heyneke Meyer ahead of the June Test programme as an option before he eventually handed the stand-in reins to Matfield.

For his part at the time, Louw responded to the smoke signals from South Africa in local newspaper The Bath Chronicle by saying: “The fact that the coach made mention of me is fantastic and very humbling ... it’s always good to hear the coach hold you in such high regard.”

That certainly didn’t sound like another way of saying: ”No, I’m not especially interested in leading my country, thanks.”

But Meyer had also suggested hooker Du Plessis (one of his designated vice-captains during the June assignments) as a possibility then, and the Sharks hard man did go on to lead the Durban-based side -- in his first campaign at the helm -- to best South African finish in Super Rugby 2014; they were losing semi-finalists to the Crusaders in Christchurch.

Not only that, but the sometimes short-fused, arguably world premier No 2 largely managed to stay calm and collected in his new position of responsibility during the campaign – he is certainly a lead-from-the-trenches type of rugby player.

Meyer is on record as saying Du Plessis “has improved a lot” in the leadership department for the Sharks and that “I know he can lead the Springboks”.

Established No 8 Vermeulen could also be considered as a short-term Bok captaincy solution, given his prior, sporadic leadership of the Stormers and Western Province.

Taking De Villiers out of the equation, nobody else in the likely Bok backline for the Pumas date shapes up as natural, national-team leadership material at present, although rookie flyhalf Handre Pollard – not assured of a start at Loftus – was captain of the second-placed Baby Boks at the latest edition of the IRB Junior World Championship in New Zealand.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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