Willem Alberts (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – He has had a very limited gallop at the tournament so far, and the sands of time are running out fast ... perish the thought, potentially even by Saturday night.
But Willem Alberts, the Springboks’ feared “Bone Collector”, may not be quite done yet for influence at the World Cup.
The bruising blindside flank and occasional emergency lock is among the substitutes for Saturday’s Twickenham quarter-final against Wales (17:00 SA time).
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It is not a role he is especially familiar with or suited to - coach Heyneke Meyer said as much recently, pointing out that 35-cap, 26-start Alberts is the kind of player best employed from the outset of matches in the intended “softening up” process of opponents before the contest opens up a little.
Recently, however, and not aided at all by the former Sharks favourite’s near-constant grappling with injuries, the Boks have been happy to stick to the spirited, unflagging Schalk Burger at No 7 and the blond bomber seldom delivers a dud showing.
So Alberts has to simply grab what he can get at present; Saturday will represent his third opportunity on the trot at RWC 2015 to enter the fray off the bench after he came dangerously close to being asked to pack his bags at one stage because of his frustrating inactivity.
If he is not the dreamiest of replacements on paper, he seemed to go out of his way – to his credit – to dispel that fear in the Boks’ last pool outing against the United States after a negligible nine-minute stint a few days previously against Scotland.
Given a more meaningful 32-minute shift from the 48th minute onward at the Olympic Stadium, as Burger took a deserved rest for bigger challenges ahead, the 31-year-old heavyweight busied himself immediately, with a sequence of strong ball-in-hand charges and one especially assured kickoff grab.
Assuming the game against the Welsh is tight, and gains are made primarily in close-quarters yardage, then the sheer power Alberts offers could prove to be a game-breaking factor if the Boks’ red-jerseyed foes are tiring in the last quarter or thereabouts.
And if the Boks do manage to close the deal at Twickenham this weekend, marching onward to a semi-final and guaranteed extra match after that (either the final or bronze playoff), don’t discount the possibility that the Bone Collector becomes an increasingly appreciated asset as long as he manages to stay battle-fit.
It may be starting to get more wintery in England by then – conditions for several weeks at RWC have been unusually mild and benign – and of course the tournament has now veered away from usage of various football stadiums with their faster, firmer surfaces and into more orthodox rugby terrain.
When the going gets wetter, more ponderous and attritional, and big lumps are being lifted out of muddy turf, a beefy specimen like Alberts comes increasingly into his own.
This will probably be his last of two personal World Cups, and if it doesn’t end with disappointing haste for the Boks on Saturday, there could just be further, important contributions from him over the following fortnight ...
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