Pretoria - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer may spring a surprise and thrust the responsibilities of the lineout calls with No 8 Duane Vermeulen, allowing him more leeway in choosing his locks in the absence of Victor Matfield.
The supersport.com website reports that with the likes of Pieter-Steph du Toit and Flip van der Merwe out with injury, and Franco van der Merwe and Juandre Kruger not called up and with their overseas clubs, Meyer certainly doesn’t have a lot of leeway when it comes to his five lock.
This will be one of the more interesting choices when he names his team for the opening Castle Lager Rugby Championship match against Argentina at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Lood de Jager has been the man Meyer has been hinting at to take over the five jersey for the match, but the Bok camp may well spring a surprise and play the bruising duo of Bakkies Botha and Eben Etzebeth together as well.
While this is an interesting prospect, it leaves the question of just who will take on the lineout calls, with just recognised four locks being in the frame for selection this week.
It is no state secret that Meyer and Matfield have been working with De Jager and Etzebeth to take over the long-term responsibility of the calls if there is a crisis, and what better week than this one to do the experiment.
But on Monday assistant coach Johan van Graan hinted at a different strategy – one that may see Duane Vermeulen getting some extra responsibility in the pack to make the lineout calls.
Vermeulen has grown in stature since being selected two years ago and is firmly entrenched in his position.
Quite clearly his name is one of the first onto the team sheet in terms of selection and Meyer rates him very highly.
So the move to instil more responsibility on him may be Meyer’s way of coaxing him into more of a leadership role, especially as he is almost synonymous with the power and passion that the Boks play with at the moment.
Giving Vermeulen the lineout calling responsibility may be a stroke of genius as both locks can concentrate on their core duties, leaving the strategic options to Vermeulen, who is experienced enough to know when to make the right calls.
But it goes further than that.
Last week the debate was who would be captain if Jean de Villiers didn’t pass his fitness test.
With Matfield out, and the obvious choices – Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss and Francois Louw – all with drawbacks at the moment, Vermeulen might well be seen long term as another captaincy option in future, especially if he excels with the lineout calls.
Du Plessis and Strauss both compete for the same position, making it difficult to favour one over the other, especially as your captain should be entrenched in his place, while Louw is based overseas, something taboo for Bok captains at the moment.
Vermeulen offers that left-field option for the Boks, something that hasn’t been studied to death by the opposition, and a gamble that if it does pay off, may well be a shrewd move further down the line.
Van Graan hinted that De Jager may well be in the five spot, but that he may not necessarily get all the calling options for the test.
"Victor is probably the best lineout forward that has ever played the game.
"He not only brings the lineout but also the organisation around the field, both on defence and attack, as well as experience,” Van Graan told the media describing the loss of Matfield.
"He is a big loss, but that being said I can’t wait for the next guy to get the opportunity.
"We’ve worked hard with Lood and Eben on their calling.
"We also worked with Lood and Duane in the June internationals.”
"Whoever is selected will make the lineout calls and especially with a guy like Duane, who has been part of the system for a while now.
"He is an experienced leader and he showed at the Stormers just what he brings extra to the pack.
"We’re not too worried, its good to give guys opportunities and we’re looking forward to them doing well on Saturday."
Van Graan warned not to take Argentina lightly, with a new coach and month away on camp, they’re serious about making an impact against the Boks and in the Rugby Championship as a whole.
The return of Juan Martin Fernadez Lobbe in particular, he said, was sure to strengthen them significantly.
"We’ve got a lot of respect for Argentina.
"They’ve got a number of world class players which we highly rate.
"Lobbe – their captain – if you just take his performance in the Heineken Cup final where he played with Juan Smith you can see the calibre of player he is.
"Marcos Ayeza, I met him at Leceister and he is one of the best lineout lifters in the world.
"They have a few new young guys coming in. We’ve watched them closely, they have a very good scrum, and play like a typical Argentinean side that have a good pack of forwards who concentrate on leg tackles."
The setpiece has been a Bok strength up to now, and they will need it to remain so to get the positive start they want from the Rugby Championship.