Boks in UK

Boks cram bench with forwards

2013-11-20 17:00
Gurthro Steenkamp (Gallo Images).

Cape Town - South Africa’s intention to hit France on Saturday with the same sort of blunt instrument that knocked Scotland into fairly easy submission are clear.

While it is true that the Springboks are managing to also construct some easy-on-the-eye tries through crisp ball-in-hand play this year, ceaseless physicality and ruthless execution of basics up front have been particularly key hallmarks of the unbeaten European tour run thus far.

For Stade de France (kickoff 22:00 SA time), coach Heyneke Meyer on Wednesday unveiled an unusually lopsided match-day 23, featuring as many as 14 pack members in total and just nine backs: in simpler words, a 6-2 bench split.

That will probably be fine as long as, touch wood, a leading Bok backline player doesn’t succumb to some freak injury very early in proceedings; resources in that department would suddenly look dangerously threadbare if there is heaps of time still left on the clock.

One consolation is that all spots behind the scrum are still fairly adequately covered, with Jano Vermaak the designated reserve scrumhalf – he is nippy and crafty enough to also operate at wing, for instance, should the need arise.

And with Pat Lambie the other backline reserve, the baby-faced Sharks favourite can operate confidently at any of fullback, flyhalf or inside centre.

Ruan Pienaar, who returns to the No 9 jersey following Fourie du Preez’s slightly curveball release from the squad, also sports no lack of prior nous in a fullback or flyhalf capacity if the Boks find themselves badly stretched and desperately re-organising for some reason.

In fairness, also, Meyer’s extraordinarily preoccupation with forward depth for this final fixture of the season may be linked to the minor medical uncertainty surrounding two of his regular loose forwards, Willem Alberts and Francois Louw.

“Alberts” and “shoulder worry” go together like Mills & Boon – it is a reason the Bone Collector only played the first half at Murrayfield – whilst fetcher Louw, although happily named to start again, is clearly still nursing the effects of that debatable cleanout from Scottish hard man Jim Hamilton.

The Boks could summon both of Siya Kolisi and adaptable Pieter-Steph du Toit (he played much of his 2012 Baby Boks campaign in the IRB Junior World Championship at blindside flank) should they need as many as two loose forward subs against France.

As far as the run-out XV is concerned, Meyer has not come up with any surprises: although the Boks have not beaten France in their own environment since way back in 1997, this really looks a team capable of putting an end to that poor record – French rugby is on something of a dull, flat line at present although they can still be counted on for the odd performance of dangerous, sparkling resolve.

After much hoo-ha about what option he might take in the absence at tighthead prop of both Jannie du Plessis and now Frans Malherbe, it is a relief that Coenie Oosthuizen finally gets a “sink or swim” start-out opportunity on what remains by instinct his wrong side of the scrum.

He looked solid enough there for the lion’s share of the Scotland match, as a substitute, although the known French scrumming ethic provides a sterner examination.

If things do look difficult for the burly Free Stater, there is still the knowledge that Lourens Adriaanse -- who is of different, shorter stature and is at least a No 3 specialist -- could probably function decently there for up to 35 or 40 debut-making minutes even if he comes into this clash undesirably short of game time ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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