Test scrum half headache for the Boks

2013-09-01 14:00

Du Preez is anointed one, but who is the backup?

Fourie du Preez did enough in 26 minutes at FNB Stadium to show why coach Heyneke Meyer was so keen to recall him to the Springbok side.

There was quite a bit of scepticism about Meyer’s decision to bring back from Japan a player who had last played an international match on October 9 2011.

But when the scrum half came on in the 54th minute as a substitute against Argentina, his assured touches transformed the game.

From the moment the 2007 Rugby World Cup winner touched the ball, he galvanised the Springboks as an attacking unit and they ran in five tries while he was on the field to rout the Pumas 73-13.

Du Preez showed he could do it. Meyer was vindicated and, with the 31-year-old holding the baton, there was much hyperbole about what pitch the Springbok orchestra could attain.

But if Du Preez’s presence gave a glimpse of an exciting future, it was nowhere near the impact he made when he wasn’t there.

Du Preez, because of his contract in Japan, had to travel east while the Boks went west to Mendoza for their return match against the Argentinians.

Far from being demoralised, the Pumas put up a pugnacious fight against a lackadaisical and uninspired Springbok team. And one of the biggest culprits was the man Meyer has chosen to keep the No 9 jersey warm, Ruan Pienaar, while he finds a way to get Du Preez involved on a more permanent basis.

Pienaar made an early error, which resulted in a try for the home side that had the effect of stoking the fiery Latin temperaments of the Argentinians. In the end, the Boks escaped with a fortuitous victory and the absence of Du Preez’s influence on a Bok test had never been more glaring.

In the prelude to the Soweto test at FNB Stadium, Meyer had explained that, in his pattern, the scrum half needed to make up to 300 different calls in a match and the justification for his recalling Du Preez could not have been more strongly affirmed.

It emphasised that the Bok team needs a kingpin in the No 9 jersey and made it all the more strange that the coach did not send Jano Vermaak on to the field in Mendoza in place of Pienaar in an effort to change the tempo of the game.

The scrum half is the link between forwards and backs and, in the modern game, he has in many instances become a more crucial member of the team than the fly half.

The scrum half is the axle around which the wheel turns; he needs to have the ability to run strongly but also defend stoutly. He has to have in his arsenal a variety of passes and a plethora of different kicks. He needs to have physical resilience and exceptional peripheral vision and, most of all, he must fulfil the need for speed – something Pienaar was unable to do.

Meyer has made his point, but the problem is that Du Preez is tied into his contract with Suntory, signed when

he was of the belief he would not play test rugby again, while the next two No 9s in line, Pienaar and Vermaak, are also bonded to foreign pay masters.

It was thought Francois Hougaard was Du Preez’s heir apparent. But the Blue Bulls speedster suffered an alarming dip in form – especially when it came to executing Meyer’s kicking procedure – and is now injured.

That leaves young Piet van Zyl of the Cheetahs, the man who had to vacate a seat on the bus when Du Preez was recalled. Chunky, quick and competitive, he looks to have it all, but that won’t be known until he is required to do it all in successive test matches.

And the time to find a solution has elapsed. Over the next two weekends, the Boks

play the Wallabies and the All Blacks at what, for them, are hoodoo grounds.

So we know Du Preez is Meyer’s kingpin, but what is the backup plan?

Who will Heyneke choose to be his No 9?

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