Eben Etzebeth (Gallo)
Cape Town – The second row may well be the area in which the Springboks boast the best resources of all their positions at RWC 2015.
For pure, proven quality of personnel, perhaps only loose forward stocks are on a par, but lock carried the advantage – at least at the time of writing – of fewer injury vagaries going into the tournament.
Certainly in the No 4 berth, South Africa should play second fiddle to virtually no-one for excellence in the shape of Eben Etzebeth, although the All Blacks’ 2014 world player of the year Brodie Retallick is obviously a seriously formidable customer in the berth as well and can also double as a five if required.
Stormers/WP meanie Etzebeth has mostly been back at his very best in the green and gold this season, and even at the fairly tender age of 23 now sports 37 Test appearances which means he doesn’t fall short on international street wisdom in his first exposure to a World Cup.
This is his opportunity to confirm on the highest stage of them all just what a standout global tight-five enforcer he will be for many years to come, fitness permitting.
Etzebeth leads the “front lock” pecking order by some distance; slightly less clear-cut is the situation at No 5 although it provides a reasonably pleasant head-scratcher for coach Heyneke Meyer as he is spoilt for sparkling choices there in a tight contest for the berth.
Whether the old master Victor Matfield gets first-choice status in the jersey for key RWC matches, at the unusually advanced age of 38, may depend to some extent on whether he is also entrusted with the responsibility of Bok captaincy (some reckon that these days Matfield is a perfect, calming presence to inject off a bench in the later stages of tight clashes).
That in turn, of course, will be influenced by the precarious situation surrounding intended Bok leader Jean de Villiers, who is fighting stoically on two fronts – rehabilitation from both jaw and knee injuries – to reach an acceptable level of readiness for RWC action.
Captaincy issues aside, the long-time lineout genius may be deemed the right fit next to Etzebeth anyway, given that his 123-cap experience would be a natural foil for his much younger partner – Matfield looked convincing on just about all fronts in Buenos Aires in the last Bok outing.
But what about Lood de Jager? The lanky Cheetahs dynamo has a baby face but that belies the aggression, vigour and athleticism he brings to the party.
He has also been one of most consistently standout Bok performers whenever fielded in what has been a slightly problematic 2015 Test season thus far – some pundits even suggest he may not crack the squad but to me that seems near-unthinkable from a form point of view, especially as he covers both berths even if it is at No 5 that he has come on in leaps and bounds of late.
Arguably the most suitable, next best candidate for Etzebeth’s No 4 role, however, is the seasoned Flip van der Merwe: the 30-year-old has been an international since 2010 and boasts physical dimensions tailor-made for rugby north of the equator. Most other countries would install him in their squad mix in a hurry if they could.
But his presence could depend on whether Meyer takes along -- as he probably will? -- both Pieter-Steph du Toit and Willem Alberts as imposing men who can switch between loose forward and the second row with some effortlessness .
As mentioned in the earlier study of the loosie resources, now officially Stormers-bound Du Toit could be a fantastic, wildcard sort of asset to the Bok cause at RWC 2015, and raring to be unleashed properly on the world after cruel periods of absenteeism through major knee injuries ...
Boks’ lock depth rating ahead of RWC 2015: 8/10 (though how coach Meyer handles the Matfield/De Jager pleasant conundrum at No 5 will be important, and interesting to observe)
*Locks in last RWC squad (2011): Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Johann Muller, Danie Rossouw (versatile), Willem Alberts (versatile). The Boks had one or two injury hassles in the second row and opened the tournament against Wales with Matfield and Rossouw the locks; they narrowly bowed out against Australia in the quarter-final with the same pairing, although the much-decorated Botha got pool starts in between against Fiji and Namibia.
Boks’ RWC health: the loosies
Boks’ RWC health: Scrumhalves
Boks’ RWC health: Flyhalves
Boks’ RWC health: Centres
Boks’ RWC health: Wings
Boks’ RWC health: Fullbacks
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing