The first Bok side of 2013 is a tremendously exciting one says Tank Lanning in his Sport24 column, and one that must be given freedom to play, the one worry being tighthead cover on the bench.
Sure coach Heyneke Meyer’s hand was forced a little through injuries to players like Juan de Jongh, JP Pietersen, Jaco Taute, Bismarck du Plessis and Duane Vermeulen, but he has been bold in certain key selections, and as such, deserves credit for those.
It is fantastic to see a player like Willie le Roux selected at fullback ahead of Zane Kirchner. Like many it seems, I have long been calling for a player with more to offer on attack to cut the line from fullback, and it does not come in a much more exciting package than le Roux.
The other bold selections comes at scrumhalf, where Jano Vermaak is rewarded for his form for the Blue Bulls, who, much to Meyer’s relief no doubt, are without doubt the leading South African light in this year’s Super Rugby tournament.
Francois Hougaard, for a couple of reasons it seems, has had a season to forget, and while Frans Ludeke has chosen to start him in recent games, Meyer has gone with the crisper service and sharper pass of Vermaak to service the inform again Morne Steyn at flyhalf, and that makes sense. In fact, many might argue that Vermaak’s form has played a big part in Steyn returning to form, making the retention of the combination at national level an even more astute move.
Hougaard, available only as a scrumhalf given his want to focus on that position, thus finds himself in the stands in Durban on Saturday, and that in itself is a bold and decisive call from Meyer.
JJ Engelbrecht gets his first start at outside centre, while Bjorn Basson earns his seventh cap on the wing, and both deserve their places. Engelbrecht was probably called up a little too early last year, but credit to Meyer for spotting the ability. He has been sensational outside Jan Serfontein this year, but less so outside Wynand Olivier. How he will gel with skipper Jean de Villiers is the key question.
Brilliant to see Serfontein in the 23. Together with Robert Ebersohn and Engelbrecht, the Bok midfield needs a good set of shades, such is the brightness of the future!
Up front there is no need for the oversees based Gurthrö Steenkamp, Heinke van der Merwe or Schalk Brits. Even without Du Plessis, and it makes sense not to rush him back, the Boks will be well served by the inform Adriaan Strauss and Chiliboy Ralepelle, who struggled with injuries last year.
As a nation, we are particularly well stocked at loosehead, with Coenie Oosthuizen pushing Beast Mtawarira hard for a starting berth, and the massively exciting Trevor Nyakane waiting in the wings. And outside of that, strongmen like JC Janse van Rensberg and Steven Kitshoff provide more than capable backup.
Not so much at tighthead though, and it is in this key position that I question the coach’s logic. Lourens Adriaanse has come on enormously both as a scrummager and player this year, hence the Cheetahs being able to play from a solid platform. But to my mind, Wiehahn Herbst has been the man challenging incumbent Jannie du plessis for a start at the Sharks, and should have been in the Bok squad as his deputy.
And with 23 man squads now going into battle, you have to have a full front row on the bench, allowing you specialist loosehead and tighthead cover, he would have been an ideal bench prop with Oosthuizen.
Instead, Meyer has gone with Nyakane and Oosthuizen. And I can understand the coach giving into this temptation given their ability to contribute with ball in hand and make an impact round the field, but what happens if Du Plessis goes down in the third minute of the game? We have all seen Oosthuizen struggle on that side of the scrum every time he is given that last 20 minutes at tighthead for the Cheetahs. It is the one time I would suggest a coach select conservatively and cover your basic need for a strong scrummaging tighthead prop on the bench, especially given that you are now allowed two blocks of granite on the bench …
So a mini question mark regarding the De Villiers and Engelbrecht combination, a worry if Jannie goes down early, and perhaps a lack of fetcher cover on the bench, but all in all a bloody exciting first Springbok side. Let’s just hope they are given the freedom to play …