A lot rests on Oosthuizen

2013-11-23 00:00

THE Springboks will be clutching all available digits when new tighthead Coenie Oosthuizen packs down against the feared French scrum in tonight’s Test in Paris.

Oosthuizen, a retreaded loosehead, has been press-ganged into starting on the tighthead for the first time in his Test career following the injury to specialist Frans Malherbe at Murrayfield last weekend.

No one doubts that the hefty, 127 kg Oosthuizen is a powerful fellow, but he has been used primarily as an impact player off the bench and has yet to show that he has mastered the technical side of one of the most demanding jobs in rugby.

Head coach Heyneke Meyer, his assistant Johann van Graan and scrum expert Pieter de Villiers have all said this week that Oosthuizen is up for the challenge. But the mad scramble on Monday to have veteran Jannie du Plessis, South Africa’s leading tighthead, cleared of injury and rushed to Paris suggests that they know they have a problem.

The French pride themselves on their scrummaging and they will certainly target Oosthuizen in attempting to defuse the power of the Springbok pack and undermine their attacking platform.

The French, if allowed to play on the frontfoot, are a major threat and their backs, with their strong support play and angled running, will be far more of an attacking threat than Wales and Scotland.

The Springboks will also miss the calm decision-making, accurate tactical kicking and crisp service of scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, who has been at the heart of most of their more inspired displays this season.

The Springboks, because of the enforced changes at prop and scrumhalf, are not as strong as they were against Wales and any win today will be one to savour. Not only are they somehow still standing in the last week of a 10-month season, but they are up against fresh, fired-up opponents.

Meyer, in an attempt to counter battle fatigue and bruised bodies, has selected cleverly in loading his bench with six forwards — almost a second pack — and only two backs. He is clearly looking to the experience of Bakkies Botha and Adriaan Strauss, along with the other replacements, to revive and invigorate the Bok effort in the last quarter when the energetic French came within touching distance of breaking the tiring All Blacks’ long winning streak a fortnight ago.

The unsettled French have had a dreadful year, winning only two matches and finishing last in the Six Nations. But as everyone in the rugby world knows, the most consistent feature of French rugby players is their unpredictability and the outcome tonight will depend on whether the Springboks play the French team that took the All Blacks down to the wire or the French team that fiddled and faffed against Tonga a week back.

Driving on the French will be 80 000 critical Parisians, who seem as quick to boo their team as cheer them, but Les Bleus appear to save their most passionate performances for home games against the Springboks and it was way back in 1997 that they last lost to the South Africans in France.

The Springboks are obviously looking to their formidable pack and bruising backrow to squeeze the life and enthusiasm out of the French on the field and in the stands.

“It will be a tough arm wrestle and we can’t let go,” France coach Philippe Saint-André said on the eve of the Test. “Coaching will be important against South Africa and we’ll need the 23 players, especially the tight five.”

The Springboks outscored Wales and Scotland 7-0, and the Frenchman is clearly concerned about stopping the big South African ball-carriers.

“We know we’ll have to be strong defensively and make sure we put them down in the first tackle,” Saint-André said.

“Our tackling percentage against New Zealand was very high and we will need the same ferocity and intensity to beat the South Africans.”

“We know what to expect. We have to be ready tactically and mentally.”

Meyer said the Boks faced a massive challenge.

“They have probably the best scrum in world rugby, they maul well and they have a big pack. It will be very tough.”

He denied that the result would define the Springboks’ season.

“I think we have made a big step up this year and I’m happy with our progress, win or lose against France. But it would be unbelievable if we could win and the players are up for it in spite of the short, six-day turnaround since we played Scotland.”

History, if not form, is on the side of the Les Bleus and tonight’s contest will provide a stern test of the Springboks’ stamina and desire —and the scrummaging technique of one Coenrad Victor “Shrek” Oosthuizen.

TEAMS

France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Sofiane Guitoune, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Remi Tales, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Wenceslas Lauret, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Pape, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Yannick Forestier.

Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 20 Yannick Nyanga, 21 Jean-Marc Doussain, 22 Frederic Michalak, 23 Mathieu Bastareaud

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux: 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain) 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Bakkies Botha, 20 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 21 Siya Kolisi 22 Jano Vermaak, 23 Patrick Lambie.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).

Kick-off: 10 pm (SA time).

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