Jacques van der Westhuyzen
EDINBURGH: The Springboks are finally benefiting from certain players plying their trade in Europe: the scrum is again a real force and, for a change, there’s just so much depth in the front row.
Also, the fact that the Bok scrum coach, Pieter de Villiers, played for over a decade in France and represented that country in 68 Tests, is now starting to pay big dividends.
It has been some time since a national coach was in the position Heyneke Meyer finds himself with regards to front-rankers – he is blessed with an array of talent, power and skill, both young and experienced, and the Boks are, seemingly, growing in stature every time they play.
While Tendai Mtawarira has returned to South Africa because of heart problems, Meyer is still able to call on Gurthrö Steenkamp, SA’s Player of the Year in 2010, World Cup prop and veteran CJ van der Linde, tighthead specialist Jannie du Plessis, young guns Pat Cilliers and Heinke van der Merwe and even younger rookie Frans Malherbe, a powerhouse talent from Western Province, who arrived here today to replace of Mtawarira.
On top of that, BJ Botha wasn’t even considered for this tour, while Northampton-based Brian Mujati – apparently the strongest scrummager in England – was deemed ineligible due to passport issues. Bulls tighthead Werner Kruger and Lions loosehead JC Janse van Rensburg were also not picked.
It is anyone’s guess who’ll feature against Scotland at Murrayfield this weekend, but it doesn’t really matter who Meyer names in his side: he knows he’s got the men to do the job for the Boks at scrum-time.
Steenkamp’s experience, having played 38 Tests and now based at Toulouse in France, should see him take over from Mtawarira, but Van der Linde did well at loosehead last week when called into the side hours before the kickoff, while Van der Merwe, who only joined the Boks on Wednesday last week, scrummed powerfully late on against Ireland, winning two crucial penalties.
Scrum guru De Villiers yesterday said the Boks were benefiting from having Europe-based players Steenkamp and Van der Merwe in the side. Van der Linde has also spent time playing in Ireland.
“It’s coach Heyneke’s department who he picks, but he’s obviously gone for players who’re doing well for their clubs and provinces, as is the case with Gurthrö being picked and Heinke coming in last week,” said the softly spoken former Test prop De Villiers.
“But the overseas guys do bring a certain maturity and balance to the team, having played a certain kind of rugby (in these parts). They bring something different to the table. Maybe it’s a closer game up front (in the northern hemisphere) and maybe it’s a bit slower than in the southern hemisphere.”
De Villiers isn’t a man of many words, but one can clearly see why Meyer has roped him in. The Bok scrum, and the strength in the front row, is a real factor again.
Steenkamp’s availability this weekend, after missing out last week because of a rib injury, further boosts the Boks in this department.
Forwards coach Johann van Graan was full of praise for the Toulouse prop yesterday.
“Gurthrö’s made an immediate impact this week. He put in some big hits at training on Monday afternoon, and can now rightly be called a world-class player,” said Van Graan, who also worked with Steenkamp at the Bulls for many years.
“He’s become an awesome player and is a real leader in his position ... he’s experienced and excited to go this weekend.
“He’s class; he’s got the experience, the physicality and he hasn’t lost any of his ball-carrying ability. But his scrumming has improved a lot, his availability is a big plus for us.”
Meyer will name his line-up today for the Scotland Test.