Cape Town – The Springbok match 23 unveiled by Allister Coetzee for Saturday’s Castle Rugby Championship Test against the All Blacks in Christchurch does desperately little to suggest any special fluid, futuristic template is going to be observed by them.
It will be back to basics as they try very hard to spoil, wrestle, pressurise and bludgeon -- rather than wow -- their way to a hugely unexpected victory at AMI Stadium (09:35 kick-off, SA time).
Once again, a dead giveaway is the retention of a 6-2 bench split between forwards and backs, with even greater grunt among the reserve pack members – now that broad-shouldered young hooker Malcolm Marx and veteran Willem “Bone Collector” Alberts have been infused – than was available last time out against Australia in Brisbane.
But a further hint of a stubborn return to basics is also the return, among two changes to the starting XV (one enforced by Lood de Jager’s injury) of Vincent Koch at tighthead prop after he was omitted completely from match-day plans against the Wallabies.
Lourens Adriaanse is a “Steady Eddie” sort of customer in the No 3 berth, and has some reason to feel a tad miffed about his return to the bench after a maiden start at Suncorp Stadium; he was no worse than many colleagues on another sickly day for the green-and-gold cause.
But I felt the emerging Koch, potentially more explosive at scrum-time and definitely a player of greater renown as a thumping ball-carrier, should never have been shafted for the Aussie clash anyway, so in many ways a fitting correction has simply been made for this red-letter occasion against the world champions.
Ironically, the Boks continue to operate in the strangely unbending belief that all is hunky-dory at loosehead, where Tendai Mtawarira is more overdue than a cancelled train, frankly, for a barnstorming performance of the kind he used to produce far more religiously.
But the “Beast” does offer vast experience for an occasion like this one, and if he can finally get a proper bee in his bonnet – perhaps imagining that Owen Franks is Phil Vickery? -- then the Boks will be that much closer to forward parity or possibly even slight, invaluable mastery.
Coetzee is pretty sure to implore his entire pack arsenal to pull out a herculean effort against the New Zealanders, as it really does seem their best passport to success on this specific date; they simply are not ready to handsomely implement any more exciting, multi-dimensional formula that so many people crave.
Besides, it was interesting listening to pundit and 79-cap former All Black lock Ian Jones, speaking on the New Zealand rugby chat show The Breakdown this week, adding his voice to the widespread theory that the Boks are “confused” about the direction they seek to go in.
And while you might say you’d expect it of a tight forward, he implied that the Boks are in danger of abandoning too many of their traditional attributes – like “physical intensity and a strong kick chase” – in their slow steps toward a more up-tempo, ball-in-hand game.
Jones also slightly pooh-poohed the notion that a fashionable “Lions way” is the correct medicine for the Springboks: “There is time and space in Super Rugby which you simply don’t get at Test level … so I disagree that they have to move on a lot (from strengths that have previously served them best).”
Meanwhile another All Black legend, Sir John Kirwan, said on the same programme, even as it seemed clear the panel were quietly imploring the Boks to at least provide a stiff contest: “If they get that big African power game going, they’ll be hard to stop … we can’t relax for a second.”
Hard to stop? That may have been a tad over-generous of Kirwan, given the no-slouch capabilities of the NZ forward unit themselves.
But a Bok side more competitive, primarily by industrial routes, on Saturday? Coetzee’s broad selection suggests that’s really the plan from the rank underdogs.
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