Could this be the strongest Bok line-up?

2010-06-05 00:00

THERE should be very few surprises when the Springbok team to face France at Newlands next Saturday is named this weekend, although, of course, with coach Peter de Villiers involved, supporters should brace themselves for the unexpected.

The form of most of the senior Springboks in helping the Bulls and Stormers reach the Super 14 final has been excellent. The evidence of these past four months suggests that at least 11 Boks choose themselves. They are Bryan Habana, Jaque Fourie, Wynand Olivier, Morné Steyn, Fourie du Preez, Victor Matfield, Andries Bekker, Gurthro Steenkamp, Schalk Burger and Pierre Spies, while John Smit, back at hooker, will captain the team.

Olivier and Bekker, on their excellent Super 14 form, would appear to be obvious replacements for the injured inside centre Jean de Villiers and lock Bakkies Botha.

Four other places appear up for grabs following the departure of fullback Frans Steyn to France, the injury to right wing JP Pietersen, the compassionate leave granted flank Juan Smith and the vacancy at tighthead now that Smit is back home at hooker.

But wait … there could be more. If scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, his job done for the Bulls, does now rush off for shoulder surgery, then De Villiers has to find a scrumhalf. There is also a nagging feeling that the Bok coach will again ignore the obvious claims of Wynand Olivier in spite of the inside centre’s compelling form, both on attack and defence, for the Bulls. The talented, 22-year-old Juan de Jongh, after one season of Super 14 rugby and a natural outside centre, is still finding his way in the No. 12 jersey, but he has a strong admirer in De Villiers.

Significantly, when inside centre Butch James’s position against Wales was threatened, De Villiers flew in fullback Zane Kirchner — and not the more obvious replacement in specialist Olivier — and promoted De Jongh off the bench into the starting line-up.

Selection for the French Test will depend on De Villiers’s willingness to compromise. Ruan Pienaar should be a shoo-in at scrumhalf if Du Preez is unavailable, but the Bok coach has repeatedly said he regards the Sharks player as a flyhalf. Both Pienaar and John Plumtree, his head coach at the Sharks, are among the many who disagree, convinced he remains a better scrumhalf, but it remains to be seen whether De Villiers can be persuaded.

There is also the possibility that De Villiers will change his mind on a couple of overseas players and that fullback Frans Steyn, and perhaps tighthead prop BJ Botha, might be included against France.

But, if De Villiers continues to overlook his foreign legion, then Zane Kirchner could be the fullback, with the fitter, more focused Jannie du Plessis, who received scant recognition as the Sharks battled in the Super 14, the likely tighthead.

Injury to Pietersen and the emerging Francois Hougaard has left a gaping hole on the right wing and De Villiers may gamble on the exciting but small Gio Aplon, in spite of his bumpy ride in the Super 14 final.

De Villiers will have to choose between either Francois Louw or Dewald Potgieter, both in action against the Welsh this afternoon, for the No. 7 flank position.

The strongest Bok team on form (and including the overseas-based Frans Steyn and BJ Botha) could read:

Frans Steyn (or Zane Kirchner), Gio Aplon, Jaque Fourie, Wynand Olivier, Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Fourie du Preez (or Ruan Pienaar), Pierre Spies, Francois Louw, Victor Matfield, Andries Bekker, BJ Botha (or Jannie du Plessis), John Smit (c), Gurthro Steenkamp.

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