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Unanswered questions


Written by Richard Ferguson (Richard Ferguson)

Posted in :Original Content, Springboks on 20 Jun 2013 at 13:03
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , , ,

The Springboks face Samoa in the last of the Incoming Tour matches before the international season takes a step back once again for Super Rugby to continue. The next match for the Springboks is against Argentina in the opening match of the Rugby Championship, which is in the middle of August, and I am worried about the Boks going into this competition.

As I have mentioned in previous scribes, I suspect the Boks may go into the Rugby Championship severely undercooked, thanks to matches against Italy (ranked 12), Scotland (ranked 11) and next up Samoa (ranked 7). This compared to our opposition in the Rugby Championship playing the British & Irish Lions, France (ranked 5) and England (ranked 4). My concerns go further than that though.

Heyneke Meyer had the ideal opportunity to see what exactly the depth in certain positions can do, even if only against the lower ranked teams. The first thing that jumps to mind is the fact that the same front row has started every match so far this International season. That is great for continuity and building combinations, but these players have been played into the ground at Super Rugby, and while the franchise players are taking a much needed break, these guys go back to their unions in need of a break.

Tendai Mtawarira, Adriaan Strauss and Jannie du Plessis will all go back to the Sharks and Cheetahs and continue playing when Super Rugby kicks off again in a week’s time. This would continue for another three weeks, for the Sharks players, Strauss’ Cheetahs might yet make the play-offs, before they go into the next part of the season, the Rugby Championship.

Dare I say it, what might happen if either of Mtawarira or du Plessis get hurt, nevermind both of them. It is all good and well knowing which player works off the bench, but are we really satisfied that Trevor Nyakane can start in the place of Beast and be as effective. The same can be asked of Coenie Oosthuizen, the experiment of playing him at tighthead from the bench has worked, to a certain degree, when coming on for the last 15 minutes, but will it work should he start the match.

Unfortunately, this series of Incoming Tours has left more questions than answers, and I am sure Heyneke Meyer is battling with this himself. Here are my main concerns, and I would like you all to keep this in mind and we will have a look at this again once the Rugby Championship has been played.

First area of concern for me is the front row, as mentioned above. I will not go into much more detail, but questions surrounding the Cheetahs props (add to the equation Lourens Adriaanse who is also in the squad) should be answered. We are all well aware that other props like Pat Cilliers and Frans Malherbe are injured, but even they would find it difficult to play in the absence of Beast or Jannie. At least we seem to know our hookers and which of them are first choice at this stage, so the coverage there is not of concern.

Moving onto the second row, Eben Etzebeth is the only certainty. Juandre Kruger played the first two games and was below par. Flip van der Merwe gets his shot this weekend in one of very few changes we have seen to the Bok team these last three weeks. I do understand that Pieter-Steph du Toit would have been given a run to try him in combination with Etzebeth, but that would have to wait until the End of Year tours, it seems.

The loose trio is in uncertainty and in imbalance. Pierre Spies is the only choice at eighthman at this stage with injuries hampering Duane Vermeulen’s shot at a starting spot. Ryan Kankowski’s absence in a Sharks jersey has done him no favours, with the player moving onto another code altogether. The problem will come if Spies is to be injured, with no other tested player to replace him. As for the flanks, Francois Louw is the other certainty. Combinations with Marcell Coetzee, Siya Kolisi and Willem Alberts have been tested, with none of the above really working any better than the other. Alberts is off the mark in terms of game time and full match fitness, while Coetzee is off form thanks to struggling through a long season with the Sharks. The brightest of finds thus far has been Kolisi, who has been dropped to try and play Willem Alberts into form, which I strongly disagree with. Looking beyond these, Lappies Labuschagne was overlooked for every match and we still have no idea what he is capable of.

Another question left unanswered is “Who is the first choice scrumhalf?” It is understood that Jano Vermaak was started in that first match to give Pienaar a break, but he has started the second match and looked well under par, similar to his performance off the bench in the first match. We have seen substantial injuries in this position which have not helped the rotation at all, leaving Pienaar to start again this weekend.

Morne Steyn’s continued inclusion in the starting team leaves me to believe that he will start the Rugby Championship, even though many thought he would not be available. Lambie’s performances off the bench have not been of the quality that would force Meyer to drop Steyn. The problem would come should Steyn get injured, but we have faith that Lambie will find his lost form and stand up if asked to.

The first choice centre combination also seems to have been found with JJ Engelbrecht cementing his spot alongside captain Jean de Villiers. While Jan Serfontein has had limited time off the bench, there is also Juan de Jongh to call upon. This position seems to be set should any massive injuries hit before the Rugby Championship.

The same can be said about the wings. Bryan Habana and Bjorn Basson have been given starts, and with JJ Engelbrecht and Willie le Roux also able to cover wing in case of injury, the Springbok coach can rest easily when it comes to his back three. Willie le Roux was given a chance to show what he can do in Springbok colours and has shown to be more dynamic than Zane Kirchner. Kirchner is likely to remain in the squad as backup to le Roux, and would leave the Springboks well covered here.

As you can see from the length of this article, there is quite a bit of uncertainty around the Boks and the squad make up come Rugby Championship time. We can only hope that Meyer knows something that we clearly do not. I’m sure there are few people out there who can confidently say they have faith in the current coach, with me not being one of them.



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