Bok vulnerabilities to remain?

2012-08-03 11:23
Morne Steyn (Gallo)
Cape Town – Expect South Africa to be able to field a thoroughly competitive “first XV” but remain a little wanting for depth in certain positions when coach Heyneke Meyer names a broad squad for the fledgling Castle Rugby Championship at Worcester on Saturday afternoon.

That was the certainly the case in the generally satisfying 2-0 Test series triumph over England a few weeks ago, and the situation has barely changed subsequently ... primarily because of the ongoing injuries affecting such strong candidates as loose forwards Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen, young flyhalf phenomenon Johan Goosen and the barnstorming Cheetahs front-ranker Coenie Oosthuizen.

None are remotely ready for international activity yet, although No 8 (and also possible blind-side flanker) Vermeulen is likely to be in the Currie Cup mix very shortly for Western Province and thus in a position to start re-staking Bok claims as rapidly as he can.

Given the likelihood that the majority of those players mentioned seem unlikely to be available until the traditional end-of-year tour to the northern hemisphere at the earliest, Meyer is expected not to drop too many selection bombs in the Boland town on Saturday.

There are whispers in some sectors of the media that Paul Jordaan, the exciting Sharks and Baby Boks midfielder who has been tasked with policing Sonny Bill Williams in the Super Rugby final against the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday, may force his way into plans for the four-nation event now also featuring Argentina.

The Boks kick off their tournament against the South Americans at Newlands on Saturday, August 18.

A decent enough display in that showpiece (where he is mildly out of position at No 12) could see him cement a call-up if he is, indeed, strongly on Meyer’s mind, just as a big game from versatile Pat Lambie in the fullback position and a resurgent Ryan Kankowski in the No 8 shirt will do their own claims for Bok starts against the Pumas no harm at all.

No 15 is an area where the Boks -- mostly for reasons related to injury upheaval -- chopped and changed heavily against England, as all of Zane Kirchner, Lambie and Gio Aplon started games in that slot respectively.

None was able, under the circumstances, to compellingly scream: “This berth is mine.”

Not that long ago, the hefty Frans Steyn was seen as a potential full-time occupant of the last line of defence for the Boks, but he has been so influential subsequently as an inside centre, with captain Jean de Villiers in turn settling promisingly into a No 13 role, that this alliance will almost certainly continue.

Perhaps Peter Grant’s so-so showing for the Stormers in the Super Rugby semi-final defeat to the Sharks last weekend will have adversely affected his chances of being added to the Bok mix and pressuring further the seriously unconvincing and predictable – this year, at any rate – Morne Steyn.

But “Bash’s” willingness to attack the advantage line physically could yet see him returned to the squad, especially with Goosen still not ready for any consideration.

Grant’s line kicking has nothing like the range Steyn’s does, but his short- to medium-range place-kicking has been well eclipsing the Bulls man’s for accuracy in Super Rugby and there is always Frans Steyn’s near-unrivalled “distance” strength off the tee to fall back on if someone like Grant does somehow wriggle his way back to starting duty for his country.

Meanwhile at scrumhalf a close tussle is likely to remain between incumbent Francois Hougaard (who showed some ongoing flaws in key areas against England, for all his X-factor and boundless energy and commitment) and the perhaps more “rounded” Ruan Pienaar.

Sport24 has not been able to establish any major clarity in inquiries related to veteran Fourie du Preez, who pulled out of contention at the last minute for the England series after initially being thought of as not only first-choice No 9 but also skipper.

Did that mean his Test career is now formally finished? No emphatic “yay or nay” has been forthcoming from the Bok brains trust, but as he has still been inactive at suitably high levels of the game more recently, it is hard to imagine he will suddenly be summoned now.

The pack resources, by and large, take care of themselves at present, with Andries Bekker almost certainly back to bolster lock resources – though a personal preference would be for Juandre Kruger to at least start the Castle Championship still in the No 5 jersey, alongside impressive rookie Eben Etzebeth.

The ever-enigmatic Pierre Spies ought to feel major heat from Kankowski for the No 8 start against Argentina, whilst people outside of the Bulls environment would also be entitled to question the squad retention – if it happens – of Jacques Potgieter.

He had a reasonable enough debut in the 14-14 draw with England at Port Elizabeth (the Boks’ most sterile showing of the three, admittedly under dead-rubber circumstances), but does he offer enough of a skill-set for Test rugby beyond mere ruggedness and a “direct” approach?

Siya Kolisi, who played wonderfully as an open-sider for the Stormers this season despite his strongest suit probably still being No 7, would be a far from undeserving choice if given the nod instead – maybe a compromise is a green light for both?

For the time being, with Oosthuizen still in rehab from a neck injury (something usually and wisely treated conservatively for props), the back-ups to currently clear first choices Beast Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis may remain relatively uninspiring in pure scrummaging terms.

Werner Kruger and Dean Greyling can hardly be faulted for work-rate outside of the set-piece – the latter is a forceful ball-carrier too – but in recent weeks have worryingly not progressed at all at their supposed main trade.

The Bok squad, expected to comprise something close to 30 players, should not differ vastly from this if Meyer sticks to his “stability” principle:

Backs: Pat Lambie, Zane Kirchner, JP Pietersen, Lwazi Mvovo, Bryan Habana, Jean de Villiers (captain), Francois Steyn, JJ Engelbrecht/Paul Jordaan, Morne Steyn, Elton Jantjies, Francois Hougaard, Ruan Pienaar.

Forwards: Ryan Kankowski, Pierre Spies, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel, Siya Kolisi, Jacques Potgieter, Andries Bekker, Juandre Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Flip van der Merwe, Jannie du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira, Werner Kruger, Dean Greyling, Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Chiliboy Ralepelle.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  morne steyn  |  rugby


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