Front Row Grunt

Rugby … with cauliflower ears

circus tent

Bok front row circus

The 23 man squad has seen the death of the utility bench prop says Tank Lanning in his Sport24 column, and as such, the Bok selectors must emerge from the circus tent (and dark ages), and select accordingly.

You know, I feel sorry for Coenie Oosthuizen!

The poor bugger has come in for some brutal criticism from many quarters, with this very columnist leading the charge. I remain convinced that he is not a tighthead prop – he will survive in a big pack such as the Bok pack, and do a job, but will never ever dominate a good loosehead prop. Technically, and physically, he is just not equipped to play in a position that requires granite like stability.

So when he got his first start at loosehead against the Scots on Saturday, I joined the fat men of the world in a wobbly old jig of joy. Back to the position he should be playing, I thought.

But on a good day for South African rugby where the Boks proved that the next man in line is good enough (you just need to trust the conveyor belt), that good enough is old enough, that a flatter, more physical Handre Pollard is the future, and that they can play a more ball in hand kind of game (Pollard only kicked 6 times), a pretty weak scrum got overlooked.

It was the Scots 4th game on a tour that spanned 3 continents, came at the back end of a long season, and they were missing many players. The Boks should have man handled them. And they did, with a new-look young side. But come scrum time, it was more about survival, and not even close to dominance. And given that the stalwart Du Plessis brothers were to his right, the spotlight rightly remains on Oosthuizen – again!

After 2 or 3 years of trying to turn the feisty Free Stater, who really is monumental round the park, hence coach Heyneke Meyer wanting to get keep him in the Bok squad, the poor bugger now seems unable to play loosehead either! How utterly tragic!

Sure it was his first game with the No 1 on his back in a while, but 2 things concern me. 1 – He is back at tighthead for the Cheetahs against the Sharks this weekend, and 2 – Marcel van der Merwe, on the bench as a tighthead on Saturday, was brought on for Oosthuizen at loosehead, before being switched to tighthead with 10 minutes to go, so that Trevor Nyakane could get his obligatory meaningless few minutes.

It’s a bloody circus!

There are 5 positions in rugby that see 2 players carry the same name: Prop, Lock, Flank, Centre and Wing. Same name yes, but all 5 should be treated as separate positions. Yet as the game migrates toward a ball in hand, multiple-phase entity, so we see the need for all 15 players to employ a more similar skillset.

11 and 14 have been interchangeable for a while, 4 and 5 are becoming closer as players become better physical specimens (and can thus carry and jump), Jake White was the first to play without a fetcher, opting for 2 big ball carrying, hard tackling flanks at 6 and 7, coaches have been happy to move a 12 to 13, but this weekend we see Juan de Jongh moving from 13 to 12 in an indication that the centres are becoming less defined, but you NEVER mess with 1 and 3!

The 23 man squad allows for both a tighthead and a loosehead on the bench. The days of the CJ van der Linde type utility bench prop are over. Props can, and must, specialise. And as such, the Bok selectors must emerge from the dark ages (and circus tent), and select accordingly.

Author: Tank

Ex WP prop with a fair amount of experience in all things media ...

One Comment

  1. Thank you Tank, thank you! The scrum is a game within the game, the shifting and “converting” of props can do nothing but undermine the dominance of a pack. One would think at that level, selectors would be well aware of this fact. South African rugby is indeed in the dark ages.