Cape Town – Under Heyneke Meyer’s tenure, “gargantuan”
tended to be a dominant theme for the Springbok loose trio.
His favoured combination, a lot of the time, was an alliance
of Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen, although the injury-prone
tendency of his beloved “Bone Collector” at blindside flank – Alberts – meant
veteran utility factor Schalk Burger also got plenty of game-time.
Between them, the favoured trio tipped the scales at just
short of 350kg, if you tally up Louw’s roughly 112kg battle-weight, Alberts’s
particularly brawny 120kg and the 116kg of Vermeulen.
They were best suited to close-quarters scrapping, in the
absence of a notable speed merchant among them, although did the business as a
unit more often than not – particularly in heavier, northern hemisphere-like
Following the elbow-related fitness setback suffered by No 8
Vermeulen in Johannesburg last Saturday, Louw is now the lone survivor from
that Meyer-era group in the starting loosie line-up named by new coach Allister
Coetzee on Thursday for Saturday’s decisive final Test against Ireland at
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Although there is an outside chance he might have been
preferred to a strangely sub-standard Vermeulen for the Port Elizabeth clash
anyway, Lions captain Whiteley steps into the eighth-man void for his sixth cap
and first Bok start.
The only other change to the XV which began the dramatic
Highveld Test last Saturday was just as predictable, as Ruan Combrinck could
hardly be ignored following his impactful second half off the bench, and starts
in place of defensively vulnerable Lwazi Mvovo.
But by getting the rangy, clever-stepping Whiteley to join
forces with Louw and Siya Kolisi for this key showdown – a home series loss to
Ireland would instantly be translated by many to “disaster” in big red letters –
Coetzee will know that this is now a combination with mobility a stronger
quality than monstering, if you like.
Whiteley supposedly comes in at around 106kg, whilst Kolisi
is not your typical blindsider (and detractors might argue that it shows?) at
only some 101kg: it means the Boks have effectively shed some 10kg per man from
Meyer’s most fancied trio.
Under the circumstances, you have to wonder if the Boks
don’t intend, even if it goes a little against Coetzee’s conservative
instincts, to play a slightly more fluid and adventurous ball-in-hand game in
the Friendly City and avoid getting drawn into a pronounced arm-wrestle with
They were worryingly “smashed” off the ball at times at both
Newlands and Emirates Airline Park, even with a juggernaut like Vermeulen still
in their midst, although there were also large periods in both games where it
was difficult not to suspect the Boks were coming up a little short for true
desire and urgency.
Springbok packs traditionally like to physically impose
themselves on opponents, and it has only been happening in isolated individual
cases in the series so far, rather than as a fire-in-belly, blanket assault.
But that is not to say that the Boks specifically intend to
go all airy-fairy this weekend: there are still plenty of names in their engine
room capable of dishing out big hits and bruises if they are mentally at the
Just for one thing, Coetzee reminded at his team
announcement that someone like substitute Steven Kitshoff, almost certain to
make a second-half Test debut in place of Tendai Mtawarira, is a “very, very
strong ball-carrier” so he could be a source of go-forward at vital stages of
He also has the feasible option again, if things are not
going entirely to plan, of shifting big lock Pieter-Steph du Toit to No 7 and
summoning no-nonsense workaholic Franco Mostert to the second row.
Yet when you consider that Lions tearaway Jaco Kriel is also
primed to make a debut at some point on Saturday, it almost seems to serve as
further strong evidence that the Boks are gradually sacrificing ballast for
guile in the back row.
Coetzee enthused that Whiteley is “effective in the wide
channels and (for) the ground he covers”, appearing to suggest that he is
expecting him – and possibly Kriel later on, too – to add verve to the Bok
Still, anyone fearing that South Africa may be “bullied” to
some extent in the tighter exchanges given the surrender of bulk among their
loose forwards, might also be under-estimating Whiteley’s tigerish nature and
ability to get his body over the ball on his feet for smart turnovers.
And boy, could the Boks do with some of those on Saturday …
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