Experiment or win?

2014-11-21 00:00

SPRINGBOK coach Heyneke Meyer may have been hesitant to make wholesale changes for the Italy clash this weekend for fear of another shock defeat — like the Northern Hemisphere tour opener against Ireland.

His decision to give a select few new players chances while retaining most of his starting XV from the England victory is understandable — given the ever-present emphasis on winning ­every Test.

Meyer’s eyes seem simultaneously focused on the present and the future. The 2015 World Cup is looming large and there are only six Tests left to build an innings while identifying players who will make meaningful contributions in the wider Bok squad next year.

But he also can’t afford another loss on this tour and has to bank on his senior players to anchor the exciting mix of youth in the ­36-man squad up north.

With this weekend being the final round of the international Test window, overseas players will not be available for the final fixture against Wales next week. Schalk Burger has made way for Teboho “Oupa” Mohoje this week as a result of the window.

It would have been tempting to include more debutantes in the 23-man squad against Italy — but that is a dangerous road to walk. The Italian pack are beefy and powerful at scrumtime and a loss would not do well for the younger Boks’ confidence.

Seven players who have been given an opportunity to put their hands up this weekend:

1. JOHAN GOOSEN

The talented former Cheetahs flyhalf has been plying his trade with French club Racing Metro and has made a successful move to fullback. His ability to adapt to Northern Hemisphere conditions makes him a likely candidate to claim a spot in the World Cup squad. With a huge boot, plenty of physicality and a good rugby brain, Goosen needs to perform tomorrow. He will be tested by the Italian kicking game and needs to be spot on with his positioning. JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana will guide him at the back and it is an exciting opportunity for Goosen to show what he has to offer.

2. PAT LAMBIE

Lambie has been given another crack in the flyhalf jersey after a level-headed performance against England. This is his chance to finally prove he is the best pivot in the country. His kicking game has come on leaps and bounds — something that has proved influential on this tour. Lambie offers plenty of ­X-factor on attack, which showed with his small chip that led to Cobus Reinach’s try against England. He is no shrinking violet on defence either but he must get the Boks moving on attack and outplay his opposite number. Expect him to kick a fair amount, but also look for chances on attack.

3. COBUS REINACH

A first Test start against England could not have gone any better for Reinach. He kicked well from the base, unlike his predecessor Francois Hougaard who had a shocker the week before against Ireland. He also rounded off a brilliant try conjured up by Lambie’s deft chip while providing crisp service to his forwards and backs. This feature of his game has his one up on Hougaard, whose passing game is guilty of being laboured. If Reinach can produce a consistent performance against Italy, he could be second in line behind Fourie du Preez to wear the scrumhalf jersey at the World Cup.

4. TEBOHO MOHOJE

What a rise Mohoje has made from the ranks of domestic rugby. Playing in the Varsity Cup at the beginning of the year, Oupa would never have dreamt of becoming a starting player for the Boks nine months later. But he impressed at Super Rugby level and made the step up to Test level. Meyer has backed him in a big clash against a powerful Italian pack. The challenge is to carry the ball well in contact and keep a high work-rate on defence to impress his coach. He also needs to perform at the lineouts and add some weight in the scrums if he is to emulate Schalk Burger, who he has replaced.

5. TREVOR NYAKANE

The Boks have been blessed with a quality front row in the form of brothers Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira, but too much rugby has proved that they can and will run out of steam. With that in mind, Meyer has been looking to blood new front-rowers in lieu of a worst-case injury scenario. Nyakane earns his first start. Having only played off the bench, he has come up against tiring scrums while a start against the Italians puts him up against a fresh and powerful pack. All eyes will be on the first few scrums of the game and Nyakane needs to prove he can hold his own against the likes of Martin Castrogiovanni.

6. NIZAAM CARR

An outstanding Currie Cup has given Carr the chance to make his Bok debut off the bench this weekend. The burly loose forward has proved his worth in free-flowing, expansive games but now has to adapt to the close, forward orientated arm wrestle that waits this weekend. He is the sole loosie replacement and could play eight or either side of the scrum when he takes the field. What better way to make a statement than against one of the best in the game — Italian number eight and captain Sergio Parisse. If he can adapt to the Test match rigours, he will have made a meteoric rise from being considered just a provincial player.

7. HANDRÉ POLLARD

There is no doubt that Pollard is a special talent. Scoring two tries in a Test match against the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship is no mean feat, but the talented flyhalf came slightly unstuck against Ireland and lost his starting spot to Lambie. Adapting to different conditions has been tough for a number of Boks and Pollard was not helped by his pack struggling against Ireland. Any flyhalf will look sketchy when the team are going backwards. If or when he gets a run this weekend, he must fall back on his level-headedness and do the basics right. He also needs to be more accurate with his boot if he is to become the finished article anytime soon.

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