Cape Town – The Springboks are currently flying, if that is
even the right word to employ, like a jumbo jet on one engine, with a loose set
of flaps and wheels jammed at the halfway point of deployment.
In other words, at considerable risk of a catastrophic crash.
Can YOU name the parts in the assembly of the national team that
remotely suggest stability, security, comfort?
I know I can’t … and this with the champagne-quality All
Blacks, fresh off a 57-22, eight-tries-to-one dismantling of Argentina looming so
ominously in Christchurch on Saturday.
It’s scary that for generous portions of the game against
the Pumas, the gutsy visitors were competitive and resilient, and even managed
to rattle the world champions at times. Yet when the chips were down, New
Zealand suddenly found their magic touch to close out the game majestically and
Just as galling to South Africans, but not at all far from
the truth, was past Bok Errol Tobias’s assertion in Rapport on Sunday that the spine of the Pumas team may currently be
stronger than the Springbok one. Yes, that’s once-minnow Argentina!
Yet the Boks limp onward, from their 23-17 loss to Australia
in Brisbane, to a date with the All Blacks outfit that has already crushed the
Wallabies twice in recent weeks.
If SA can somehow win in Christchurch under present
circumstances, it might go down as one of their greatest upset triumphs of all
time; at least that’s some sort of motivation, although bookies are unlikely to
be fooled as they assemble their forecasts.
Confusion reigns supreme … these Boks look devoid of
structure, clear-cut strategy, cutting edge and composure, and also just
beginning to flirt with a potential post-isolation record low for tangible individual
class and aura in the ranks, quite frankly.
Here’s an impromptu examination of the sickly state of
affairs, across the berths:
This was arguably one of the Boks’ better areas in Brisbane
… but that is also saying so very little. Bryan Habana is past his vintage
best, but they still need his vast experience and big heart and engine, by my
book. The other two berths, of course, are made up of players more familiar
with other positions … so opponents are sure to plan cunningly with that
strongly in mind. Johan Goosen showed slight improvement at fullback, though I
believe he warrants a crack at more familiar No 10 now. Francois Hougaard
brings tenacity, if not a whole lot else, and as a trio they just look a tad
lightweight (and lacking aerial authority, too?) for the explosive likes of
Julian Savea and company among the NZ outside-back division …
If, as we pretty much have to, we are to regard mediocrity
as something to cling to gratefully right now, then the new pairing of Juan de
Jongh and Jesse Kriel were plucky enough against Australia, and largely avoided
error. But if Goosen is considered for the problematic, yet key flyhalf spot in
Christchurch, Kriel may be required to shift from centre to the No 15 vacancy,
potentially facilitating a return to the outside channel for Lionel Mapoe, who
may have been unlucky to be dropped in Brisbane anyway. Meanwhile the clamour
for Lions powerhouse (though he’s definitely not only about brawn) Rohan Janse
van Rensburg will only intensify, and understandably so. You have to think, and
hope, he’ll come into the mix for the home Tests against the Wallabies and All
The halfback pairing
Nick Mallett spoke post-Suncorp of too many players in
supposedly direction-bringing jerseys (two, eight, nine, 10 and 12) being
“quiet” … in other words, not hugely imposing themselves, hence overall Bok
bluntness. I believe the situation has become especially acute at scrumhalf and
flyhalf, where Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies are undoubtedly gifted but both damagingly
naïve in game management, as things stand, as internationals. Embattled
Allister Coetzee isn’t wrong when he says this will only improve with
experience, but time is not exactly a generous ally as the Boks flounder so
badly. I recommend at least some kind of bag-shake here for Saturday. (The
ridiculously peripheral Rudy Paige at No 9? Or an older, possibly wiser
Hougaard getting a fresh crack there?) If a change is deemed necessary at
flyhalf, where Jantjies still looks mentally brittle in a Test shirt, then
Goosen, as mentioned, would be my preferred go-to.
The Louw-Mohoje-Whiteley alliance was fair in Brisbane. Louw
and Whiteley both upped their games from Salta, which is something. But none
look resolutely anchored-down in their berths, either … and remember that SA is
traditionally supposed to have quality loosies coming out of its ears! Mohoje
has shown a willingness to tackle industriously, but also hasn’t displayed any
special ball-carrying oomph for a blind-sider yet. And isn’t Jaco Kriel’s pace
overdue for a maiden starting crack at No 6? The addition of Willem Alberts,
just a little out of the blue, to the squad on Sunday seems a little odd: the
now 32-year-old bruiser is a huge unit, potentially aiding “go-forward” at
close quarters but even Heyneke Meyer had largely moved on from the
injury-prone, Stade Francais-based Bone Collector by late last year. Maybe he’d
be useful if Christchurch is a quagmire next weekend, but if not …
Negligible woes in this department … although some minor
signs of creaking, nevertheless. Eben Etzebeth may well be slowly succumbing to
fatigue, which is a concern given that he is one of desperately few present
Boks sporting true world class. Partner Lood de Jager is sidelined for around a
fortnight now after a knock to a knee – a pity, as second viewing of the
Brisbane game (yes, call me a masochist) convinced me the the lanky No 5 was
playing better than I gave him credit for in his mere 40 minutes, and only 32
of them at optimal fitness. There is still the reassuring presence of
Pieter-Steph du Toit, bound to return to the XV this weekend, and Franco
Mostert in the party.
Sigh … yet another area marked more by fog than blue sky.
The Boks couldn’t dominate even the relatively humdrum Aussie scrum, which is a
bit of an indictment on start-out props Tendai Mtawarira and Lourens Adriaanse.
The former shockingly clings to his starting berth, despite being innocuous in
all respects throughout the Test season to this point; not a patch on the force
of a few years ago. Mind you, against Oz Steven Kitshoff didn’t have his best
scrum-time outing as a substitute. In fairness to new tighthead Adriaanse, his
starting debut wasn’t all bad, so he just about deserves retention for the All
Blacks despite the Bok management missing a trick terribly with their axing of
Vincent Koch. The hooker situation stays deeply troublesome: captain Adriaan
Strauss showed glimpses of his truer abilities at last in Brisbane, but a
dangerous void is also being created for when he quits at year’s end, because
Bongi Mbonambi gets only fleeting minutes of opportunity here and there and other
squad man Malcolm Marx absolutely zilch yet.
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