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Perth - Andries Bekker is set to be dropped from the Springbok team for Saturday’s Test against Australia, with Juandre Kruger earning a recall to the starting line-up.
Bok coach Heyneke Meyer will name his team on Wednesday, and after an average performance from Bekker in the 16-16 draw against Argentina in Mendoza, he is likely to pay the price.
Bulls No 5 Kruger ran at lock alongside Eben Etzebeth in the Bok “probables” team during Tuesday’s practice at Hale School in Perth.
Bekker was not even among the reserves who moved into the “probables” team later on in the training session, with another Bulls second-rower, Flip van der Merwe, replacing Etzebeth.
Meyer said on Monday that he would not be scared to make a few “hard changes” if the players are not at their best, and it seems that Bekker is the first casualty. It would be a bit unfortunate for the Stormers star to be axed as he only started the two Tests against Argentina.
He was commanding in the lineout in the Newlands clash, and also won a reasonable amount of possession in Mendoza. Bekker was also a willing ball-carrier in both games, but it was his defence that let him down in the second match.
The 2.08m giant missed a few tackles on the day, and did not play a big part in hitting the rucks when the Boks were in possession.
But that is not normally his role, so he can feel unlucky. Kruger would come back into the side because of three competent, but not commanding overall performances against England in June, and was left out entirely against Argentina.
Bekker’s extra height and lineout prowess would’ve been crucial against Wallaby veteran Nathan Sharpe, although those are also strong aspects of Kruger’s game. He is not renowned for his physicality, though.
The other possible changes - Francois Hougaard moving to left wing in place of Lwazi Mvovo, Ruan Pienaar starting at scrumhalf and Duane Vermeulen making his Test debut at No 8 - are also likely to happen. All three players ran in those respective positions in yesterday’s practice, with Bath loose forward Francois Louw set to play off the bench as Marcell Coetzee and Willem Alberts hold on to their starting berths.
Louw would be a bold option in the starting line-up to counter Wallaby fetcher Michael Hooper, but he only arrived in Perth on Monday evening from England, which probably counts against him.
Pienaar will certainly bring much more stability to the team at No 9, as he has played over 50 Tests and has a big kicking boot, which the Bok brainstrust deem to be important. But Pienaar is also a swift clearer of the ball, and has considerable skill and speed to keep the Wallaby defences busy around the fringes.
Hougaard has struggled at halfback this season, and perhaps having more freedom to play his natural attacking game at wing will result in him making a greater impact.
Vermeulen looked sharp and powerful during yesterday’s practice, running impressively with the ball. He hasn’t played much rugby following a four-month layoff due to a knee injury, but his physical presence and game-sense will add much-needed vitality to the Bok loose trio.
The only major injury worry, hooker Adriaan Strauss, will know today whether he will be ready to play. Strauss did a few running drills on his own during yesterday’s practice under the watch of team doctor Craig Roberts, physiotherapist René Naylor and Meyer. He then had a compression device tied to his right leg to treat his knee ligament strain.
A final call on his fitness will be made today. WP hooker Tiaan Liebenberg will start at hooker if Strauss is ruled out.
Cheetahs youngster Johan Goosen is likely to be included on the bench, and could make his Test debut at flyhalf, with Pat Lambie set to cover fullback.
Meanwhile, Bok backline coach Ricardo Loubscher believes that flyhalf MornéSteyn will be back to his best at the Patersons Stadium on Saturday. Steyn missed two vital penalties and did not take control of the backs against Argentina in Mendoza.
“Morné showed in the past, and I think you guys are probably aware of that, he is always the type of guy that will bounce back. I’m a great believer that he will be back. I’m confident and positive that Morné ... He is in a good space at the moment, and I am excited about him,” Loubscher said during yesterday’s media briefing at the team hotel.
LIKELY SPRINGBOK TEAM
15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jean de Villiers (capt), 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss/Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Bench: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg/Craig Burden, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Francois Louw, 20 Johan Goosen, 21 Lwazi Mvovo, 22 Pat Lambie.
15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (capt), 8 Radike Samo, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson. Bench: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Scott Higginbotham, 19 Liam Gill, 20 Nick Phipps, 21 Mike Harris, 22 Anthony Faingaa.