Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has to make some big selection calls if his team are to challenge the Wallabies and All Blacks in next week’s Rugby Championship tour of Australia and New Zealand.
Coaches are often reluctant to make changes, whether it’s about the gameplan or selection.
But after what happened against Argentina in Salta on Saturday night and at Loftus a week earlier, Meyer would be turning the Boks into sitting ducks in Perth and Wellington if he doesn’t shake up the team.
In Salta, the scrums were diabolical, the lineouts problematic, the defence shoddy and the attack lacked organisation and execution.
The nagging doubts surrounding Jannie du Plessis’s scrummaging were undeniably confirmed when he was drilled all day long by powerhouse Argentinian loosehead Marcos Ayerza.
Du Plessis actually improved in 2013, and even contributed in the tight-loose, especially on defence. But a combination of almost non-stop rugby this year and questionable technique saw Du Plessis fall out of the bus in Salta.
Frans Malherbe’s season-ending ankle fracture complicates matters, so Meyer is unlikely to drop Du Plessis for the Wallaby and All Black Tests, but he must take another look at Marcel van der Merwe, who did well for the Bulls in Super Rugby and now in the Currie Cup.
Van der Merwe should’ve got more gametime in the June Test window than just the 30 minutes, at loosehead prop, against Scotland, and will hopefully get another opportunity against the Wallabies and All Blacks.
It’s a pity that Lions first-choice tighthead Julian Redelinghuys is injured at the moment, as he has played a major role in his team being rated as having the best scrum in Super Rugby.
Gurthrö Steenkamp had a nightmare outing as well, so Tendai Mtawarira will wear the No 1 jersey against the Wallabies next Saturday, while Trevor Nyakane is still in the squad as back-up.
Mind you, while Bismarck du Plessis is rightly regarded as one of the top hookers in the world, his performances of late haven’t been up to his usual high standard. He seems irritated with the world, and it appears as if his focus is not on the play at all times.
Adriaan Strauss made a huge impact off the bench in Salta, and while I have expressed my reservations about his work-rate and lack of physicality in the past, he is certainly trying harder than Bismarck at the moment.
And surely the Handré Pollard experiment has to stop now? In both Argentina Tests the Bulls wunderkind has looked lost, struggling to keep up with the pace of the game and unable to impose himself on the Bok play.
Apart from his amazing touchline conversion in Salta, Morné Steyn once again showed that he can play close to the advantage line as a flyhalf standing flat on attack as he brought great energy to the Bok effort with his decisive option-taking and distribution.
Pollard’s lack of direction and assertiveness negatively affected Jean de Villiers and Damian de Allende in midfield, with De Allende – asked to play at outside centre, where he hasn’t played before at senior level – particularly unsure of where he needed to be and what he needed to do.
Meyer seemingly prefers a big No 13, which is why he has gone for the likes of JJ Engelbrecht, Jaque Fourie (when available), JP Pietersen and now De Allende, but that ploy has not worked, with all of those players not convincing.
Fourie is still in Japan and is set to be available for the two home Championship games against Australia and New Zealand, just like Pietersen, with Fourie du Preez still injured.
But Meyer stuck to his guns and retained De Allende and Jan Serfontein as the specialist centres alongside De Villiers when he named the Bok squad for the Perth and Wellington Tests last night.
However, it’s a missed opportunity to bring in Juan de Jongh and S’bura Sithole as outside-centre options for the Perth and Wellington Tests.
Sithole was the best South African No 13 in Super Rugby for the Sharks, while De Jongh has been in fine form for Western Province in the Currie Cup.
I would’ve gone for De Jongh, as he has the experience of 14 Test caps and won’t be overwhelmed by the occasion of a big game.
Victor Matfield is back from injury for the tour, and I would’ve been inclined to call up the Sharks’ No 5 Stephan Lewies as well in place of Lood de Jager, who struggled to replicate his debut performance against Scotland in June.
Lewies won the most lineouts in Super Rugby and has a high work-rate, and he is now over a minor injury that sidelined him in recent weeks, returning at the weekend against the Cheetahs.
Juan Smith’s remarkable comeback to Test rugby from serious injury was a wonderful story to tell, but unfortunately for the big Free Stater he was well off the pace in Salta and unable to bring a hard edge to the pack through strong ball-carrying or big hits in defence.
Willem Alberts has been recalled, but has to pass a fitness test on Thursday, but the Boks need some finesse in the loose trio.
With Schalk Burger in Japan and unavailable, the form loose forward in South African rugby at the moment is Western Province No 8 Nizaam Carr, who was also very good for the Stormers in Super Rugby as an openside flank.
His attacking skills and high work-rate is what the Boks need at the moment, and his provincial teammate Duane Vermeulen can easily move to blindside flank.
Meyer, though, opted to call up Lions captain and No 8 Warren Whiteley for the Argentina trip in place of Alberts, so he is ahead of Carr in the pecking order at the moment.
But, like with Oupa Mohoje, Meyer didn’t utilise Whiteley against Argentina, so the Bok coach will most likely stick with a loose trio of Francois Louw, Alberts and Vermeulen against the Wallabies and All Blacks.
But as I have mentioned before, that combination lacks a bit of speed and skill to keep up with the likes of Kieran Read, Michael Hooper and Richie McCaw.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
@JohnSmit123: I feel for our Bok tight heads, Ayerza with a short bind pulling them into the tunnel to create his angle.
WHO TO FOLLOW
@CornalHendricks: The Springbok right wing finished off superbly to score in the corner against Argentina in Salta.
w Follow me on Twitter: @ashfakmohamed
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