Euro tour: Musical chairs in Bok pack?

2018-10-17 13:00
Duane Vermeulen (Gallo)

Cape Town - It would be a reasonably “pleasant” headache ... but a headache nevertheless.

Springbok head coach Rassie Erasmus may have to shuffle the furniture in his loose-forward department quite significantly on the four-Test November tour of the northern hemisphere ... and it could spill, by extension, into the second row.

The situation will at least partly come about due to the likely, highly welcome reinfusion of heavyweight - in every respect - figure Duane Vermeulen to the team at No 8.

Vermeulen has been unavailable since making a gargantuan contribution to the 2-1 home series triumph over England back in June, and the signals have been strong subsequently that he would return for the end-of-year mission in conditions that suit him down to the ground.

If he gets the squad green light, the Japan-based bruiser will almost automatically snatch the eighth-man berth.

The first Test falls outside the designated window period but that may not be an automatic impediment to Vermeulen turning out in important game one - versus England again, the home team’s big revenge push - at Twickenham on November 3.

Versatile Francois Louw operated at eight, and pretty effectively, in the narrow 32-30 Rugby Championship loss to the All Blacks at Loftus recently, while mobile Lions captain in Super Rugby, Warren Whiteley, is also fit again after injury.

But if Vermeulen vaults back into the position on the tour, it will also open up questions around the other loosie slots.

In a chat earlier this week with Heyneke Meyer, currently masterminding a revival by Stade Francais in the French Top 14, the former Bok coach - who traditionally did very well with the national side in northern climes - told Sport24 he felt Louw would remain a valuable component both as a fetcher and generally brawny pack member on the tour, assuming he is picked.

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That could mean the Bath-based player, bolstered by his enormous experience of the European winter landscape, reverting to the Bok No 6 shirt.

The 33-year-old looked a little off the pace in some early Tests in this year’s Championship, though remember that he was coming out of his own off-season at the time and has sharpened promisingly since.

But that scenario is complicated by skipper Siya Kolisi, who was in stirring form at the back end of the Championship, being the incumbent of that berth.

Although not the truest of pilferers, Kolisi has been bringing some thunderous qualities to the job in other respects and Erasmus would have to think carefully before moving him back to blindside; the Stormers leader has often produced his best Test performances on the other side.

But if Vermeulen is, indeed, re-filtered into the mix at eight, his physical qualities would help Kolisi’s cause enormously if he did switch to the other side of the scrum.

It is only when Kolisi, not the most strapping individual ever to play blindside, has the similarly more cruiserweight Whiteley as his No 8 that the Bok loose trio can sometimes present a slightly unbalanced look, with “go-forward” becoming a bit of a problem - especially on heavier, slower pitches of the type the Boks should face shortly.

But then here’s the major, additional poser: what then becomes of one of the most talked-about Bok players in recent weeks, the consistently impressive Pieter-Steph du Toit?

He is the man wearing No 7 with aplomb - he has done so for the last four Tests in a row, two each against New Zealand and Australia.

Du Toit was also the top tackler across all teams in the Championship, only underlining his value, while his strength on the drive and as a stopper of opposition mauls will be essential in the “north”.

Frankly, he is undroppable on current form.

So could he be transferred to the second row - his old, though still more familiar stomping ground - to ensure that Erasmus doesn’t have to take that unwarranted step?

The blond competitor has deliberately slimmed down by some five kilograms (he’s now reportedly around 114kg) to cater for the new, more roaming demands of his flank station, but he still carries more than enough muscle and mongrel to settle back in the tight five very easily if necessary.

But then that jeopardises the position of tireless grafter Franco Mostert at No 5, doesn’t it?

I did warn of a “musical chairs” phenomenon possibly coming to light, even if there is also a compelling case for saying the Bok loose trio in many of the Euro Tests should compromise Messrs Kolisi, Du Toit and Vermeulen, causing relatively little structural upheaval.

Over to you, Rassie ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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