Cape Town – It’s impossible to know whether he would have
been reintroduced anyway, but the side-lining of imposing hooker Bismarck du
Plessis for roughly the rest of the year sees the Springboks denied the
services of another potentially very handy element for their northern
hemisphere tour in a few weeks.
There is also a rising danger of the national side being
left badly exposed for experience in an important position should any mishap in
the remainder of the Test season rule out current captain and wearer of the No
2 jersey Adriaan Strauss, who retires from the international fray at the
completion of 2016.
Apart from their remaining Castle Rugby Championship
obligations, the Boks play Tests against England, Italy and Wales during November,
with the first-named clash at Twickenham (Nov 12) already generating a fair
amount of hype in the British media.
The stalwart Du Plessis, now based with Jake White’s
Montpellier, boasts 79 Bok caps and even at his relatively advanced age of 32,
still seemed a particularly attractive option for the annual northern trek,
given his extra familiarity at first-class level with slow, grinding winter
conditions in Europe now.
Currently, the Boks lack a bit in “grunt” and ability to
stay consistently on the front foot and camped in favourable areas of the park,
whilst Du Plessis is also a champion turnover-creator – another area where
Allister Coetzee’s labouring charges aren’t exactly bossing foes despite some
dubious protests to the contrary at times.
But it was reported on Monday that the robust competitor had
torn a chest muscle, an injury ruling him out for up to three months, which
also really means goodbye to any chance of Bok consideration for the rest of
their 2016 agenda.
Bearing in mind that it is also not clear yet whether
another seasoned, abrasive Bok forward, Toulon’s Duane Vermeulen, will be fit
again from knee surgery in time for the Euro undertaking, South Africa are increasingly
likely to tackle the tour – also featuring a Barbarians date – stripped of
possible key figures in what could turn out to be “arm wrestles” in chilly, wet
But Bok coach Allister Coetzee is also under extra pressure
now to grant more game-time to the two hookers below Strauss in the present
squad pecking order, in case his embattled skipper is suddenly laid low
Should that happen, next cabs off the rank Bongi Mbonambi –
currently the Test bench hooker – and Malcolm Marx would be thrust into more
frontline action with precious little (in the case of the sturdy Lions prospect
none) knowledge of the demands at the premier level of the game.
Stormers front-rower Mbonambi has had two desperately
short-lived gallops as a late substitute, including six minutes in the 23-17
reverse to Australia last Saturday when he managed to look zesty in open play
before the final whistle blew.
As a mere 22-year-old, the Germiston-born Marx – widely
considered a rookie version of Du Plessis physically -- could also benefit from
at least some exposure to Tests before the end-of-year mission comes around.
Domestic-based additional possibilities at hooker for the
Springboks are also that bit more limited for Coetzee and his advisors now,
given the dreadful Achilles tendon rupture suffered in the Currie Cup by
luckless SA ‘A’ hooker Scarra Ntubeni earlier this month – he will be out for
what has ominously been described as “a long time”.
The situation raises just the possibility that the Boks may
be tempted nearer the European trek to revisit the vastly experienced
credentials of 35-year-old Saracens livewire Schalk Brits.
While an entirely different animal to someone like Du
Plessis in playing style, he was part of the Boks’ World Cup 2015 squad in
England, and although many will have felt he was among several customers the
national team may well have “moved on from” in 2016, he has not officially
retired, to Sport24’s knowledge, from Test activity after 10 caps stretching
back to 2008.
Yet you still suspect that a better call might well be, in
the longer-term interest, for the Boks to give a more meaningful crack against
the world-leading All Blacks on Saturday to Mbonambi, at the very least …
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