Willem Alberts (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – Does Heyneke Meyer still consider Francois Louw,
Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen as his first-choice Springbok loose forward
The answer should become apparent during the fast-looming
World Cup ... although whether a reunion of that alliance occurs as quickly as
for the Pool B opener against Japan in Brighton on September 19 seems fairly
That is because the Bok coach will be only too aware that
all three big units are notably short of recent game time, and it would be a
risk to start with the entire “old firm” so soon.
While delivering another generally positive medical report
from the camp on Monday, team doctor Craig Roberts did reportedly caution: “The
guys have trained incredibly hard and are fit and lean but ... you want them to
be game fit, because there is a difference between being training fit and match
In the case of the loose forwards mentioned at the start of
this piece, none can be fully described as ticking the box for genuine match
sharpness right now.
Both Vermeulen and Louw have been sidelined for many weeks,
and although Alberts is the most recently active of the trio, having played
more than an hour of the victorious last Test outing against Argentina in
Buenos Aires in mid-August, the “Bone Collector” had been coming off an
extended layoff of his own at the time.
You have to suspect that getting all three to run out among
the starting XV in Brighton would be a dangerous move, even given the obvious
historical limitations of the opposition there.
Louw has apparently begun taking fullest contact in
training, with Vermeulen earmarked to do so imminently, but with game one now
only 11 days away – and despite the latter’s publicly-expressed hunger to get
stuck in – the robust No 8’s best bet might be an appearance off the bench to
phase his way back into the swing of things at the tournament.
That could open the door for the ever-industrious, adaptable
Schalk Burger to hang onto his role as acting eighthman for the moment; he has
done the job soundly from the outset in all four Tests this year.
There is a strong case for the seasoned Burger retaining a
berth somewhere in the starting trio anyway: unlike the others, the
up-and-at-‘em character will certainly not be brushing off any cobwebs when the
Japanese challenge occurs.
But if Louw and Alberts are given the all-clear for playing
the lion’s share of that match, Vermeulen may be the likeliest to make an
introduction at some point in the second half.
Meyer also has at his fingertips, of course, Siya Kolisi and
the lock-cum-blindside-flank Pieter-Steph du Toit as loosie options for the
Up to around the middle of last year, Meyer tended to be very
favourably inclined toward the Louw-Alberts-Vermeulen combination as his
premier back-row selection.
Yet for various reasons, and mostly related to individual fitness
setbacks, their last start together was against Wales at Nelspruit on June 21
2014, when the Boks somehow clawed back from 0-17 down to sneak a controversial
31-30 win at the death.
There have been 15 further Tests since.
At least some part of Meyer must keenly wish to get them
reacquainted quite speedily, though my guess is that Brighton may be a tad optimistic
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