Duane Vermeulen (Twitter)
Cape Town – Another World Cup ... and another when the Springboks need have few fears about their range of possibilities across the three loose forward positions.
Somehow it unfailingly appears to be an area where South African rugby is handsomely stocked, and this year is not greatly different.
Whatever the actual ammunition in the department named by Heyneke Meyer in Durban on Friday, it will not lack quality.
That is the substantial pro: the con is that relatively heavy doubts still surround the readiness of Duane Vermeulen – probably the biggest fish in the Boks’ loosie “aquarium” -- to play a major part in RWC 2015.
Any neck injury requiring surgery is a delicate business and the barnstorming No 8 may only find out in his first RWC exposure – touch wood, assuming that even comes -- whether it has properly remedied itself.
He is a key element of Meyer’s plans, considering the rare robustness and go-forward clout he potentially gives the side in northern climes, especially if the autumn weather proves suitably inclement at times and some fixtures are slugged out at a slow, uncompromising pace.
At least Vermeulen’s absence from the eighthman chore since the 2014 end-of-year Test in Wales has shown long-time Super Rugby (and Bok) team-mate Schalk Burger as a reassuring alternative: the multi-talented veteran has started every match this year in the berth and generally done very well.
Indeed, Burger’s unceasing work-rate and natural competitiveness suggests that even if Vermeulen is fit for the No 8 jersey, he will be hard to overlook for a start either at seven or six in key RWC matches.
His comfort in all three loosie stations is a real asset, bearing in mind that current first-choice open-sider Francois Louw will also enter the World Cup short of a gallop after injury, and the blindside “Bone Collector” Willem Alberts is seldom far away from a disruptive niggle or two.
Alberts may present a bit of a quandary to Meyer: he is mightily effective in arm-wrestles, but when pitches are dry and firm – remember that many Bok RWC games will be on short-grass football surfaces – his mobility, or relative lack of it, can be problematic. Horses for courses man here?
There must be a good chance, especially with Marcell Coetzee inconveniently injured pretty recently, that Siya Kolisi, who can operate either as an open- or blindsider, will earn a passage even if he will do well to elevate himself to part of a first-choice trio.
What of Heinrich Brussow? Meyer caught some critics off-guard when he returned the low-centre-of-gravity fetcher to his team a few weeks ago but I have a gut feel he may just miss out on the RWC squad, with Burger the back-up to Louw on the open side. Oupa Mohoje and Warren Whiteley also appear to have slipped down the pecking order and are now outsiders for tickets.
The loosie stocks would certainly be filled to probable capacity if Meyer takes along – as I fervently hope he does – Pieter-Steph du Toit as a utility forward, doubling as a solid lock option but also a dynamic, strong No 7 possibility who might catch some opponents well off-guard ...
Boks’ loose forward depth rating ahead of RWC 2015: 7.5/10 (may downgrade a notch if existing or any new injuries create some worrisome instability early on at the event)
*Loose forwards in last RWC squad (2011): Pierre Spies, Alberts, Brussow, Burger, Louw and Danie Rossouw (versatile). The favoured Bok starting trio employed by Peter de Villiers in both the important pool opener against Wales and later, controversial quarter-final exit at the hands of Australia was Brussow, Burger and Spies.
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