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Van der Merwe’s Bok rise

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Manus van Dyk/Gallo Images

Bulls tighthead Marcel van der Merwe will be on the bench against Scotland. Photo: Manus van Dyk

Port Elizabeth - Danie Craven said you pick your tighthead prop first and then your tighthead reserve before you start picking the rest of a rugby team.

So, if Heyneke Meyer subscribes to Craven’s theory, Jannie du Plessis’ name is the first one on the Springbok team sheet. But who is the reserve tighthead?

Du Plessis was far from his best last year, but many challengers for his Bok No 3 jersey have fallen by the wayside. Frans Malherbe is still injured, Pat Cilliers was injured but has come back strongly in recent months, while Lourens Adriaanse is Du Plessis’ understudy at the Sharks.

And the man who is the reserve Bok tighthead is Coenie Oosthuizen, who will be starting at loosehead prop in Saturday’s Test against Scotland at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

Oosthuizen has seldom convinced observers that he is a proper tighthead, as he made his name as a brilliant loosehead.

But with Tendai Mtawarira established as the first-choice No 1, and with Oosthuizen battling with a sore neck, he has decided to focus on the right-hand side of the scrum.

There is a new candidate this week, though, in the shape of Bulls tighthead Marcel van der Merwe, who left the Cheetahs for more gametime in Pretoria.

The move has been a phenomenal success, with Van der Merwe eventually working Werner Kruger out of the Bulls No 3 jersey.

Van der Merwe has had a number of man of the match awards in Super Rugby this year.

At 1.88m and 128kg, he is a massive man who does much more than just scrum. He is like a truck when he carries the ball, blasting through defenders, while he has a high work rate on defence as well.

The 23-year-old was named on the Bok bench by Meyer on Wednesday, and he doesn’t think that being fairly tall for a tighthead affects his game.

“It was always my ambition to be here since the beginning of the year, and it’s a dream come true. But I just decided at the beginning of the year that I will take any opportunities that I get, and try to make the most of it. And it’s just worked out,” Van der Merwe said this week.

“I don’t really think my height is much of an advantage or disadvantage. It rather comes down to your technique and how the pack works together. Every guy must try to make it as comfortable as possible for himself and make his technique work for him.”

Scotland have traditionally had a formidable scrum, and they will field an experienced front row again on Saturday, with Alasdair Dickinson (35 caps), Ross Ford (76) and Geoff Cross (31), who won their battle against the renowned Argentina pack last week.

British and Irish Lions tighthead Euan Murray (59 caps) is on the bench, so the pressure will be on Van der Merwe and reserve loosehead prop Trevor Nyakane in the second half if they were to take to the field.

“The northern hemisphere teams have always placed a serious emphasis on their set piece, so it will be a big challenge for us. And the Scots showed against Argentina that they can scrum well,” said Van der Merwe.

“So we have definitely focused on that this week, and did our homework to make sure that we are ready.”

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