Boks in UK

Strongest Bok XV of year!

2013-11-06 23:00
JP Pietersen (Gallo)
Cape Town – South Africa will field quite possibly their steeliest-looking starting team of 2013 when they take on Six Nations champions Wales at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

It is difficult to find glaring weak links in the side announced by coach Heyneke Meyer in Cardiff on Wednesday – particularly as the backline is bolstered by the simultaneous return for the first time this year of proven top-quality performers Jaque Fourie in midfield and JP Pietersen at right wing.

They may be a little shy of game-time at the highest level after their months in the Japanese fold, but if they have kept themselves in the same sort of nick demonstrated earlier in the international season by the similarly Asian-based Fourie du Preez, may well adjust to the pace and physical rigours this weekend very quickly – class, after all, is permanent.

Right up to the period in which they last represented the Springboks (Pietersen a bit more recently, as he was involved in the corresponding Euro tour in 2012), both were still among the very pick of players globally in their positions and it will be a surprise if they have regressed to a noticeable degree.

Just how influential Fourie and Pietersen will be on Saturday could depend fairly heavily on conditions for the keenly-awaited first meeting of these foes since the group phase of the last World Cup in 2011, when the Boks squeezed in 17-16 in Wellington.

Being potentially that bit closer to the action, the outside centre may have a bigger opportunity to assert himself: even if he is not getting much chance to break into those powerful strides on attack, Fourie’s defensive astuteness is legendary and he will take a lot of pressure off captain and partner Jean de Villiers in “directing traffic” when the visitors are under the cosh in their own quarter.

While he offers every bit as much (and maybe more?) X-factor as No 13 predecessor JJ Engelbrecht, who still finds a place among the subs, suddenly there will be far less of a suggestion that the Boks can be targeted for attack in that channel.

The cherry on top, for many connoisseurs of positive backline play, will be Meyer’s slightly surprising choice at this stage of that skilful footballer Pat Lambie in the last line of defence, rather than an old perceived favourite of his in Zane Kirchner, who is always likelier to blossom more on slower northern-clime surfaces than elsewhere.

Kirchner might have been a “safer” choice in many respects for this demanding tour opener – it may well prove the toughest obstacle of the three -- although he is not the most exhilarating runner you will ever see from the rear of the park.

The reasonably diminutive Lambie will face a searching examination under the high bomb, especially if the weather is foul, but if it is reasonably dry and the Boks find some mojo in the try-hunt department, it is a golden opportunity for him to add to the onslaught.

Up front, the Bok brew is a little more as had been envisaged, with a collectively heavyweight look that seems tailor-made for a war of small but critical, hard-earned yards in the UK winter landscape.

As with the backline, experience is not in short supply (six of the eight sport at least 20 caps or more) although there is one rank rookie in tighthead prop Frans Malherbe who will make his debut in tough – but perhaps constructively so – circumstances.

The young WP/Stormers man from Paarl has the necessary physical dimensions at almost 125kg and 1.90m, and is known for his honest work-rate away from the set-piece – indeed, there may be less likelihood of him being given the slip in the tackle, an area where absent stalwart Jannie du Plessis has erred a few times this year.

But you suspect that of far greater relevance will be how he copes at scrum-time against direct opponent Gethin Jenkins, some 10 years his senior in age terms, a veteran of 11 international seasons and three-time pick for British and Irish Lions tours, although injury forced him out of the latest safari to Australia earlier this year.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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