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Another front-row conundrum


Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Springboks on 23 Nov 2009 at 00:34
Tagged with : , , , , , ,

Isn’t it amazing how twenty minutes can change the perspective of an entire nation?

I’m referring, of course, to the closing quarter of the Boks’ test match against Italy this weekend, when, for the first time since the opening Lions test, the Bok scrum actually moved forward. Now, either fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you choose to look at it, there were at least two, but more like three significant changes that happened more-or-less simultaneously, making it absolutely impossible to determine which of them was really the decisive one. It could, perhaps, have been a case of all three being the difference between a scrum being walked back and one moving at roughly the same speed, but in the opposite direction.

The media, of course, have picked up on John Smit moving back to hooker as the crucial change and are using it as a stick to beat Peter de Villiers with. Wian du Preez, despite having his head repeatedly shoved up his ass for the second time in a week, is somehow “definitely up to it at this level”, while there is no visible climbdown on the abuse that’s been dished out to the Beast in recent weeks. Guess he just got lucky this time! One thing that is for bloody sure, though, is that BJ Botha is still the best scrummaging tighthead in the game, bar none. Funny that it took 20 minutes against lowly Italy for the so-called wise men to finally come around to that one.

So, the big talk, of course, is that John Smit should move back to hooker. It’s, of course, quite easy to suggest that now, with Bismarck du Plessis currently injured and out of form, but lest we forget, it was Bismarck’s absolutely undeniable class and irresistible form in 2008 that prompted the switch for Smit in the first place. The youngster was considered too good to be benching, even for the captain. Shades of Bob Skinstad v Gary Teichmann, not so? At least the incumbent was treated somewhat more fairly, in this case.

Things change, though and if there’s one thing to be said about Bismarck ’09, it’s that he’s playing like a guy who is absolutely assured of his jersey. That is to say, he doesn’t believe he can be dropped and his hunger seems to have gone. All of a sudden, the cocksure youngster who looked certain to be named “world’s best hooker” in the near future now seems punch-drunk and arrogant instead and far from being an absolute must-pick for the Boks, others such as Adriaan Strauss and even Tiaan Liebenberg seem to have stolen a march on him. Bismarck, in short, has had a season he’d rather forget and it’s very hard, right now, to justify not restoring Smit to his rightful position because, right now, Smit is clearly the better hooker.

Now I have heard plenty about Bismarck and his boetie and to say they’re rumoured to be somewhat temperamental and petulant would be an understatement. I get the feeling that coaches have learned to treat the pair with kid gloves, lest risk a messy tantrum that would derail the rest of the team. To be blunt, I think that both the Sharks and Springbok coaching teams are afraid to drop Bis, because they know he’s going to throw his toys. In the case of the Sharks, his brother will add a second set and the whole thing could get messy indeed. Having released BJ Botha to Ulster, the last thing the Sharks can afford to do is lose Jannie du Plessis, because with Smit back at hooker, there isn’t a tighthead in sight.

I see a way forward here, though and it might just depend on the conversation that I’m sure is taking place, right as we speak, between BJ Botha and Peter de Villiers. If the diminutive tighthead can be persuaded to return to South Africa with the carrot of a lasting place in the Bok front row at stake (and not just as an understudy to the overrated CJ van der Linde) then perhaps the du Plessis clan might find themselves somewhat on the back foot, both in the provincial and national pecking order. If there’s one thing that’s desperately needed in Sharks country, it’s players pushing each other hard and I, for one, would love to see exactly what Bismarck pulls out of the hat when told to actually go out and play for his position. Ditto his brother.

Or they can choose to throw their toys. After all, they’ve already signed, haven’t they?



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