Will Elton Jantjies be able to carry out Allister Coetzee's game plan? Photo: Muzi Ntombela, BackpagePix
Will Elton Jantjies be able to carry out Allister Coetzee's game plan? Photo: Muzi Ntombela, BackpagePix
Malcolm Marx is a force with ball-in-hand, but he can find his lineout jumpers? Photo: Gerhard Steenkamp, BackpagePix
Malcolm Marx is a force with ball-in-hand, but he can find his lineout jumpers? Photo: Gerhard Steenkamp, BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – If the Springboks are to triumph against France in the first Test today at Loftus Versfeld (5pm kickoff), they will have to win a good few of the mini-battles over the course of the 80 minutes.

Here we highlight four of those key one-on-one duels…

Raymond Rhule versus Virimi Vakatawa

The battle out wide on the one wing between debutant Rhule and Vakatawa could be a thrilling one, but also a very telling one. Both men are blessed with plenty of pace, but there are questions around their defensive capabilities.

Cheetahs star Rhule gets his Bok Test chance five years after first touring with the side – on November 2012’s tour to Europe – and he’ll be desperate to make the most of the opportunity afforded him. Like the man he’s up against today, Rhule was not born in the country he represents today; rather he came into this world in Accra, Ghana some 25 years ago.

Rhule’s got plenty of pace and he knows his way to the tryline, but there are concerns around his defence – he’s the worst defender in Super Rugby with 34 missed tackles in the competition to date – and at 1.8m tall and tipping the scales at 86kg, he’s in for a proper examination by France’s Vakatawa.

The Fiji-born man isn’t quite as big as some of his fellow countrymen who find themselves picked on the wing for other countries, but he’s big enough to cause the Boks, and Rhule, a few headaches today. He’s 1.86m tall and weighs a hefty 93kg, and with a Sevens background (82 appearances for France), he’s sure to possess plenty of skill, pace and power.

His sevens background means French wing Virimi Vakatawa has the skill to go with the power. Photo: EPA

Elton Jantjies versus Jules Plisson

The battle between the No 10s will, for obvious reasons, be key. Here we have two players who are both looking to establish themselves in their country’s Test teams.

The 26-year-old Jantjies had an extended run in the flyhalf position last year, without convincing in the Test arena, but then one’s got to wonder whether he was asked to play a style of rugby that didn’t suit him.

He’s back for more in 2017, and again coming off a stellar season with the Lions in Super Rugby.

Jantjies is the leading points-scorer in the competition – proof he is kicking excellently at goal – while the Lions are up there with the number of tries they’ve scored… also proof of how he’s contributed to his teammates scoring plenty of tries. With some deft touches, clever kicks into space and even kick-passes to his wings, Jantjies has shown he can be the master of his team. He must now do it at Test level, too.

Plisson, at 25 and with just 13 Tests behind him, is also still trying to become a French regular, but he has shown he is up for the big stage, having starred for Stade Francais for some years now.

At 1.84m and 92kg, Plisson is a big unit at No 10, and he’s sure to ask Jantjies to make a few tackles over the course of the 80 minutes.

Warren Whiteley versus Louis Picamoles

It’s the battle of the No 8s, and on one side it’s the new Bok skipper, and for France it’s their most experienced man this weekend, 31-year-old, 62-cap Picamoles.

Having played a good few Tests now, Whiteley won’t be overawed by the occasion of his leading the side for the first time, but he’ll be under pressure to make the right calls and to lead this new-look, rather inexperienced side, into new territory. He’ll tackle until the 80th minute, and he’ll run until he can’t move a muscle, so we know he’ll give it his everything.

His every move will be watched and analysed, especially as he’s seen as the glue that is supposed to bring together the rather unlikely flank choice of Siya Kolisi and Oupa Mohoje, while he’s also up against a seasoned veteran in Picamoles.

The French veteran is a crafty operator who’s not only a big ball-carrier type No 8, he’s also pretty good on the ground.

Raymond Rhule will face a serious test on defence against Virimi Vakatawa. Photo: Muzi Ntombela, BackpagePix

Malcolm Marx versus Clement Maynadier

This will be a key match-up, but not so much that the two players will actually go head-to-head against each other, but rather in how they perform with their core duty of throwing the ball into the lineout.

Today’s Test will be Marx’s first in the No 2 jersey after playing off the bench last year, so he’ll be under pressure throughout the time he’s on the field. It’ll help though to settle the nerves and allow him to get into his stride... and once he’s humming, there’s likely to be no stopping him.

Marx is the real deal – he’s strong as a ball-carrier and he’s equally powerful on the ground – so expect a big all-round showing.

Where he’ll be key is finding his lineout jumpers, and there are a few to find – Etzebeth, Mostert, Mohoje and Whiteley. The good thing is he knows lineout caller Mostert extremely well.

Maynadier is, like Marx, still new to Test action and he too will be under pressure to find his jumpers and produce the kind of performance one has come to expect of French hookers in the past: robust and all-action.


Independent on Saturday

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