New Boks aided by old hands

2014-06-26 07:07
Lood de Jager (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Handré Pollard with Fourie du Preez, Lood de Jager with Victor Matfield ... spot the common denominator?

Much changed the Springbok team may be to face Scotland in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, both in starting terms and on a particularly unfamiliar-looking bench, but there are certain massively comforting elements to the brew.

A key one is that the two men who will be starting Tests for the first time, flyhalf Pollard and front lock De Jager, are partnered with undisputed legends of the game in scrumhalf Du Preez and record-breaking second-row customer Matfield respectively.

Between this World Cup 2007-winning pair, they boast 181 caps, and their vast levels of street wisdom ought to have constructive, settling effect on raw positional partners.

De Jager may be running out at the start for the first time, but the big Cheetahs specimen does have the benefit already of a full, pleasingly productive half of Test rugby alongside lineout supremo Matfield, considering that he replaced another veteran in Bakkies Botha at half-time in the first of two contests against Wales at Kings Park less than a fortnight ago.

Exciting complete debutant Pollard, meanwhile, may not have played previously with Japan-based Du Preez - at 32, some 12 years his senior - but the Baby Bok captain will be extremely grateful to have such experience and tactical awareness within a whisper of his reach.

Pollard also resumes, after an absence of only a few weeks, his alliance on the other side of him with Bulls Super Rugby colleague Jan Serfontein: the inside centre was also a team-mate in his first of three exemplary seasons at IRB Junior World Championship level in 2012, when South Africa won the title on home soil.

So the backdrop to his maiden senior Bok appearance has been painted rather nicely, even if he will not deserve to be judged too harshly or prematurely if his debut turns out to be tentative in any way - he will almost certainly be suffering from at least some form of jet-lag after a turnaround of only eight days from the latest Baby Bok campaign in New Zealand, where his charges ended plucky runners-up.

Under the circumstances, the new No 10 has had extraordinarily little time to familiarise himself with the top-tier Springbok side’s systems and culture.

That said, it is nevertheless very pleasing that coach Heyneke Meyer, who had been trumpeting Pollard’s all-round virtues for some time, has taken the plunge with Pollard - in a climate where he is often accused of backing perceived “old crocks”, the former Paarl Gym pivot is quite genuinely a breath of contrasting fresh air, isn’t he?

There is one other debutant of sorts in the initial XV to tackle the Scots: giant front-ranker Coenie Oosthuizen makes his first start at loosehead prop, after earning his only other starting cap on the other side of the scrum against France in Paris at the end of last year.

It is, don’t forget, his 17th cap in total, so he is unlikely to be too stricken with butterflies after much time with the Boks as a super-sub, and now finally wearing the No 1 jersey many critics are convinced he is best suited to anyway.

Oosthuizen will be expected to be particularly prominent in a ball-carrying capacity on Saturday, whilst at scrum time the seriously established - but possibly slightly fatigued right now - Du Plessis brothers, Bismarck and Jannie, starting together for a record 34th time, should make his own presence at least relatively unflustered in the front row against the northern-clime foes.

This has been a disrupted, frustrating lead-up week for several reasons for coach Meyer, but the fact that he can still put out a XV boasting just over 500 Test appearances - including 345 in the pack - suggests South Africa should still be capable of putting Scotland to bed  infinitely earlier than the Boks did Wales at Nelspruit.

If a suitable head of steam has been achieved by the hour mark or possibly even earlier, a generally wet-behind-the-ears bunch of reserves - four of them have zero caps behind their names - will have a chance to contribute in a relatively relaxed “trial” manner, rather than be tasked straight away with desperately defending the trenches.

My money, with due respect to the travel-weary Scots, is on the former scenario.


South Africa

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Coenie Oosthuizen

Substitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Oupa Mohoje, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Zane Kirchner



*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  handré pollard  |  lood de jager  |  rugby

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