By Stephen Nell

A Rib injury that has rendered Andre Venter doubtful for Saturday's second Test against France in Durban may well spare Springbok coach Harry Viljoen one of many uncomfortable selection posers after his side's 32-23 demise at Ellis Park over the weekend.

Viljoen, however, still has a series of big decisions to make with regard to other members of South African rugby's 'old guard' following his side's shocking performance on Saturday.

Scrumhalf Joost van der Westhuizen, centre Japie Mulder, the lock pairing of Mark Andrews and Venter, as well as fullback Percy Montgomery were all in abysmal form.

In the front row matters did not go particularly well either, with Etienne Fynn struggling on debut in the scrums against French loosehead Jean-Jacques Crenca.

Viljoen said that the Boks cannot play any worse. He is quite right. This was a South African performance that rekindled unpleasant memories of defeat to Wales in 1999 and the struggling win over Uruguay at the World Cup later that year.

To add insult, it came against a French side that had only five days to prepare and sported a vastly different line-up from their last effort in the Six Nations.

South Africa, who had three weeks to prepare, were outplayed in every facet of the game by a side that concentrated on doing the basics right. France had the physical edge up front - the bastion of 'traditional SA rugby strength' - while they skillfully contested the Boks' lineout and restart ball.

This defeat also begged serious questions of Viljoen. The charismatic new face of SA rugby was seemingly replaced by a jittery character who was taking swipes at the media in the build-up to the test.

As for the game plan he has been talking about. What game plan? If there was one in the first place it was rendered null and void by the French forwards. There was very little structure or cohesion to this Bok effort.

"Think smart" has been one of the catch phrases of the new Viljoen era. Apart from a few exceptions, Viljoen's team did none of it.

Some of Viljoen's selections also have to be questioned. Venter was moved to lock where he partnered Mark Andrews. The pair had little impact and looked out of their depth against the French lineout duo of Olivier Brouzet and David Auradou.

Even if Venter, the so-called heart and soul of SA rugby, is fit, Albert van den Berg has to come into the side for Saturday's second test - both in terms of what he can offer around the park and in improving first phase possession.

Andrews can be spared for now, while Willie Meyer is likely to come in at tighthead in place of Fynn. In fairness, however, this was Fynn's first game and I recall one Cobus Visagie struggling at the first serious examination of his credentials against Wales in '99.

Dropping Fynn will also halve the black representation in the Bok side, though that problem can't match the apparent hole Viljoen has dug for himself at scrumhalf.

That Butch James managed to turn in a credible performance with Joost van der Westhuizen's slow service is testimony to the talent of the young Sharks flyhalf. The performance of James, leftwing Dean Hall and outside centre De Wet Barry were the few positives to emerge from this mess.

The bizarre nature of Van der Westhuizen's continued presence in the Bok side is only enhanced by the fact that he has already announced he is moving to Welsh club Newport shortly.

This was the cue to axe the man and bring in Werner Swanepoel. Instead, there was a statement on Friday before the game quoting Viljoen as saying that the move could prolong Van der Westhuizen's Bok career.

Neil de Kock is the other scrumhalf in the squad, but his lack of experience would make him a gamble to start with. Thus we may well be stuck with Van der Westhuizen and can merely pray that at age 30 he rediscovers some of his former glories for SA before moving on.

There were other problem areas at the back as well, with Japie Mulder letting himself down both in terms of his discipline and defence. A move inside for Barry and the introduction of Robbie Fleck will add youth and explosiveness without sacrificing too much in terms of experience.

Montgomery's goalkicking was reasonable, but his decision-making diabolical. However, he may be worth giving another crack as Thinus Delport's introduction would leave James as the goalkicker - a scary thought.

Even scarier is that apart from the June 30 date with Italy in Port Elizabeth, it gets only more difficult from here on.

  • South African lock Mark Andrews, cited by French team management for an alleged head-butt which broke French captain Fabien Galthie's nose, will not have to face a disciplinary hearing.

    Citing Commissioner Cameron Kotze - after watching the match on television in Namibia - said he had found insufficient evidence for a hearing.