Adriaan Strauss (Gallo Images)
Newcastle – It is one of their healthier
problems at a time when broader medical issues are annoyingly afflicting the
squad again, but the hooker berth has an invitingly fluid look about it for the
Springboks at the World Cup here this week.
The battle for the No 2 jersey is marked by
one encouraging characteristic: all three customers in the position – Bismarck
du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss and Schalk Brits – are seemingly available for
ongoing duty, and that is not something that can be said of too many other
departments en masse after the vibrant but bruising 46-6 triumph over Samoa.
Common sense suggests that on Wednesday
evening the Boks will resist wholesale changes for Saturday’s Scotland
challenge at St James’ Park (17:45 SA time) ... if they possibly can.
But their training and tactical plans have
already been disrupted early in the week by an injury cloud over several
players, including in-form senior personnel like Victor Matfield, probably
earmarked as stand-in captain now, and Fourie du Preez.
At least when it comes to hooker, coach
Heyneke Meyer should have his Full Monty of selection options, and which way he
goes there for the Scottish task is pretty much anybody’s guess.
He has seldom been shy to “rotate” his
premier pair (Du Plessis and Strauss) if he has felt that approach necessary,
although the former appeared to fall more conventionally into “dropped” status
following the shock 34-32 loss to Japan; he slipped right out of the match-day
squad for Samoa after conceding several costly penalties in Brighton.
While the Battleship Bismarck unusually sat
in the stands, doubtless rueing missing the kind of physical clash he is
tailor-made for, Strauss produced a thoroughly polished, professional display
as starting hooker against Samoa – a fitting celebration of his 50th
He manned up from a confrontational point
of view, even if that is supposed to be the key forte of his chief rival for
the berth, and did his basics – including the precious area of lineout
throwing-in – almost unfailingly well.
Strauss was also driving the ball up with
increasing regularity and bustle shortly before Meyer summoned the fast, fresh
legs of Brits off the bench in the 68th minute and he put in a
pleasing mini-shift as well.
Any neutral watching the Villa Park game
would have been justified in fancying the Boks wouldn’t be shuffling their
cards at hooker any time soon.
But South Africans know it is not as
straightforward as that, for in the brawny, in-your-face unit of Du Plessis the
Boks still boast one of the most genuinely “big” personalities of front-five
play and a player who thrives on premier, pressure-cooker occasions.
That was acknowledged on these very shores
pre-tournament: I have seen Du Plessis singled out at least twice in RWC-based
magazines or newspaper tournament supplements for the mantle of “key player” or
“star performer” in their study of the Bok squad and their chances.
“Firmly recognised as the world’s most
combative hooker ... a snarling menace,” read just one.
Strauss or Du Plessis to front up to the
Frankly, it could be either, and the Boks will
lose nothing either way.
And at least it’s a pleasant predicament
amidst a sea of other uncertainties.
But if he drops from the starting XV this
weekend, Strauss can also consider himself a bit unlucky ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing. Rob is attending the Bok pool phase
of RWC 2015 to provide news and analysis for Sport24 readers.