Cape Town – Tendai Mtawarira reportedly
reckons the Springboks are scrumming well. Matthew Proudfoot says it is a myth
that someone like Bath-based Francois Louw is knackered.
And I am tempted to say that I just saw an
ostrich playing French cricket with a buffalo in my garden.
On a slightly more serious note, though, I
find the Bok assistant coach’s theory on open-side flanker Louw just that teeny
bit less implausible than the “Beast’s” at present.
It got me thinking further that it would
probably be foolhardy anyway to make a sweeping judgement on the attractiveness
or otherwise of foreign-based players to the Bok cause by using evidence from Allister
Coetzee’s two chosen imports -- Louw and fellow-loosie Duane Vermeulen -- in
the Test series against Ireland so far.
There is always the possibility that, all
other considerations aside, neither is simply playing to known premier levels at
Dips in form in sport? It happens to ‘em
While Vermeulen may well have arrived with
the suspicion of being less than fully fit after his Toulon endeavours anyway,
he got more definitively hurt in the first half of the second Test in
Johannesburg last Saturday and his elbow injury will now side-line him for
As for Louw, it looks as though he will be
asked to produce a last, herculean effort as the most senior remaining Bok
loose forward in the decisive Port Elizabeth clash this weekend, before earning
a very necessary break himself following the often heavy-pitch demands of the
Anyone suggesting that both men should be
considered surplus to requirements henceforth, just because they haven’t set
the planet alight in this series, would be guilty of possessing blisteringly
selective, ludicrously short-term memory banks on them.
It can virtually be taken as a fact, I
think, that Louw and Vermeulen arrived for these assignments in a similar state
of fatigue-related vulnerability that you get from locally-based Boks as that
obligatory end-of-year Test roster in the northern hemisphere arduously
unwinds, following a southern rugby season that has begun for them some time in
Coetzee will have been well aware of the
perils of deploying Euro-stationed Springboks right now, and it may explain why
he – sensibly? – only opted for two of them for the Ireland series.
Yet he won’t earn any quibbles from this
writer, for the little it matters, if he actually hikes his tally of squad
members from northern climes for the rigours of the Rugby Championship, the
customary main event of the year from a Bok perspective.
One sound reason is that such a group of
players would almost certainly be in better fettle both mentally and physically
by then: the Boks open their account against Argentina at Mbombela Stadium on
August 20, which is two months away.
That gives pretty decent time for
foreign-based players to both get some welcome “feet up” opportunity and to engage
in vital, out-of-competition conditioning and strength programmes during the
period if they are genuinely keen to contribute to the green-and-gold cause.
In short, they would be far likelier to hit
the ground running in the Championship than we saw from Louw and Vermeulen, who
almost “limped” into action straight off their club seasons, against the Irish.
You may also find, as Super Rugby resumes
for its business end immediately after Saturday’s final Test clash is
completed, that a few home-based Boks start to succumb themselves to tiredness
and niggles in the interim, and almost inevitably in the odd case more serious
It would make sense, I am quite adamant,
not only to involve Louw and Vermeulen once more, but also such proven
international heavyweights as Bryan Habana and Bismarck du Plessis, who remain
quite possibly the best South African players in their respective positions of
left wing and hooker.
I don’t buy the argument of binning such
players from Test rugby just because they are unlikely (especially in Habana’s
case, of course) to feature for the full remainder of the next World Cup cycle
to 2019 in Japan.
Frankly, the Boks need to set their sights
on less lofty aspirations, under current circumstances, than the Webb Ellis Cup
for the time being, and instead using the next two years or so to focus on just
winning key Test matches more consistently and trying to earn first Rugby
Championship honours since they last won the former Tri-Nations back in 2009.
They still need the balance provided by a
good few hardebaarde, regardless of
whether based here or further afield in franchise terms, to help restore a
regular, winning culture and also nurture younger players being blooded to the
ranks by providing on-field stability and guidance around them.
And I believe Coetzee knows that.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing