Tank Lanning is not convinced that Coenie Oosthuizen is the man for the job, but given that Heyneke Meyer is, it is only fair that the burly Free Stater be given a chance to prove his coach and critics right … or wrong.
The Bok’s overall record against France is not too bad: Played 38, won 21, lost 11, drawn 6. And for games played in France the record is fairly similar: Played 17, won 11, lost 5, drawn 1.
However the last 4 games played in France have been won by the Les Bleus, meaning that the Boks last won in France in 1997, when the Boks hammered the home side 52-10 at Parc des Princes. And at the venue for Saturday’s Test, the Stade de France, France have won both Tests played there, 20-10 in 2001 and 26-20 in 2005.
In the French internal league, the Top 14, after 11 rounds of competition this year, only 5 points separates the top 10 teams, with most teams having won 6 and lost 5. And out of the last 10 results, the home side has won 9 of them, the anomaly being a 22 all draw between Castres and Clermont on November 1.
Point being … The French do not lose at home.
In fact, for a long period of time, there was a not so gentlemanly agreement between clubs that basically guaranteed a win for the home side … And woe betide anyone who tried to break the agreement. Players would literally fear for their lives at some away games.
Sure things have moved on a little, but the French still guard that home record fiercely. And while they are often “Shit or Champagne” out back, they continue to breed industrially physical tight forwards that look like chunks of granite smeared in Vaseline. Chunks of granite who regard the scrum as the ultimate physical challenge.
And at the Stade de France, against one of the better scrums in world rugby, we unleash Coenie Oosthuizen as the starting Springbok tighthead prop for the first time. Not good enough to start against Wales and Scotland given that he was a “Work in progress” in terms of his conversion from loosehead to tighthead, after 20 minutes on the skating rink that was Millennium Stadium, and 43 minutes on the cabbage patch that was Murrayfield, he is now good to go?
“It’s unfair to keep starting props ahead of him” say the coaching staff this week … No bloody kidding! Surely if you are good enough to bench for the Boks, you are good enough to start? What happens if the tighthead pulls a hamstring running onto the field? Don’t laugh, it’s been done before …
As the poor 3 of you who read this column regularly will know, I am not close to being convinced that Oosthuizen is the man for the job, but given that Heyneke Meyer is, it is only fair and just that the burly Free Stater be given a chance to prove his coach right or wrong. Prove him right, and I will suck eggs while eating humble pie, and more importantly, shut the hell up on the subject. Prove him wrong, and I will hold back on the “I told you so’s” for as long as possible.
And given Meyer’s obsession with having Oosthuizen as the tighthead cover on the bench, the Boks now head into the final game of the year with a player starting at tighthead for the first time, and a debutant tighthead on the bench. How Lourens Adriaanse has not been given a single minute of game time in his months with the team this year is beyond me.
Tighthead prop is probably the only position in which we do not know who our backup players are. So at least we will get some answers to some pretty important questions on Saturday. That the answers might dictate the outcome of the game is a bit of a worry.
What Oosthuizen does not lack, though is backup! With a 6/2 split on the bench, it is pretty damn clear what the game plan is going to be – blunt force trauma via 14 sledge hammers disguised as Bok forwards! Play a drinking game where you drink every time either Habana or Pietersen get the ball, and you will definitely be able to drive home from the game!
Part of this post first appeared as a column on Sport24