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Aplon, Potgieter complete Bok puzzle

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The Boks are counting on Gio Aplon to bring the X-factor against England.

One is the “magic” man with the unbelievable feet, and the other a big “momentum-stopper”. Together, Gio Aplon and Jacques Potgieter may just be the final pieces to complete the Springbok puzzle in Saturday’s third Test against England.

Aplon and Potgieter were two of the three new faces (the other being Wynand Olivier) in the Bok starting line-up, and will be keen to make the most of the opportunities coming their way due to injuries to Pat Lambie and Willem Alberts.

Coach Heyneke Meyer has had to field a different fullback in all three Tests after Zane Kirchner was injured in the Durban opener, but the man many have been calling for to line up at No 15 has at last been given his chance. And Meyer wants Stormers star Aplon to play his natural game, which will be aided by the Boks’ refreshing willingness to play with width and make use of their back-three on attack.

“I’ve always rated Gio – he brings something different. When we started, I wanted a more conservative fullback because we didn’t know what it was going to be like with the new team and a lot of youngsters coming in,” the Bok mentor said at the team announcement at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium yesterday.

“I said to Gio yesterday (Tuesday) in the one-on-ones that he is a really exciting player. I don’t want to put players into boxes. Although there is a gameplan, the reason I picked him is because of his strengths, so he is the type of guy who can do something magic from the back, and a guy who runs brilliant lines and he’s got unbelievable feet.

“I said that he must go out there and just play the way he has been playing, bring the excitement and bring the X-factor. It’s no use I pick him and he is not allowed to play, in a very set gameplan. He has looked really great in training. On a wet surface today, he beat a lot of the forwards! So, I’m looking for something special. I must also say that there is no pecking order with me. If he shows and proves that he is the best fullback, there is no reason why he can’t play going forward.”

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Potgieter has made a big impact in his first season of Super Rugby with the Bulls. He is a big ball-carrier, but a recent knee injury has kept him out of action since May 6.

“I always opt for a big ball-carrying blindside loose forward, and that is why I brought in Jacques into the frame right from the start. He is a guy who can add a lot of value. Jacques has proven in Super Rugby that he is an unbelievable ball-carrier, and the guy gives you momentum and is a momentum-stopper (on defence),” the coach said.

“It was always the plan to involve him, and with Willem’s injury, it has made it easier and quicker than I thought. Knowing Jacques, he hasn’t played for quite some time, but he is a tough character, and I know that he will have an awesome Test match.”

With Francois Steyn unavailable this week, Meyer admitted that he had thought of moving captain Jean de Villiers back to inside centre and bringing JP Pietersen into No 13, with Bjorn Basson slotting in at wing. But Olivier has walked a long road with Meyer at the Bulls, and the coach obviously believes that the 36-cap centre can do the job for the Boks despite an uninspiring Test career.

“I did consider moving Jean to 12 and JP to 13, but Jean is the captain now, so I’m scared to move him around! No, I think it’s important for Jean to stick to one area at this stage. Bringing JP in would be too many changes. It’s still a very tough series and we want to win the game,” Meyer said.

“Wynand has played there, he is very established as a 12. He understands the gameplan, and he hasn’t started many Test matches in South Africa.”

SPRINGBOK TEAM

15 Gio Aplon, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jean de Villiers (capt), 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Bench: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Bjorn Basson. – Cape Times


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