Nr 2: Chiliboy vs Bismarck

2012-04-13 00:00

SATURDAY’S performance by the Bulls was the most emphatic statement of why the franchise has managed to win the Super Rugby title on three occasions in recent years, the only SA franchise to do so.

It also explains why Heyneke Meyer is trying very hard to get the core of the Blue Bulls management team to be part of his Springbok management team.

It probably makes sense in that it was he who was the architect behind the systems that have resulted in the Bulls’ unprecedented success at Super Rugby level. It is clear that Meyer believes that the same success can be replicated at national level. His biggest enemy though is time.

After having watched the implosion of the Sharks against the Hurricanes and the Stormers notching up another winning performance and yes, the Cheetahs systematically dismantling the Lions, I found myself playing selector yet again. I mean, the English will be here in a few months and it is about time that we start speculating about who should play in Meyer’s first Test against the Poms.

As it stands, most of the positions in the Springbok run-on team are shoo-ins, but there are some positions where the former Bulls mentor is sure to come up with a few surprises. Take for instance the front row, where we all agree that Bismarck du Plessis is South Africa’s best hooker and that he should start every single Test for the Springboks.

Notwithstanding this, I have noticed that quite a number of rugby journalists have started to tout Chiliboy Ralepelle as South Africa’s first-choice hooker. Now don’t get me wrong, Chiliboy has been playing excellent rugby in the Super Rugby competition this year, but better than Bismarck? I don’t think so! The Springboks can’t afford to start any of the English Tests without Bismarck Du Plessis’s physical presence. He is a must.

That having been said, it seems as if his brother, Jannie, has returned to his old ways (2010) when he was more a liability than an asset for the Sharks. The “Beast” is still in recuperation and it will take a miracle for him to be battle-ready by June 9.

It certainly looks like we’re going to see a few surprises in the Springbok front row come that opening Test. Another area of worry is the midfield combinations. I believe we can accept that barring injury, Francois Hougaard and Morné Steyn will be the halfback pairing while Francois Steyn (if he returns in time) will be at inside centre. The outside centre berth should go to Juan de Jongh since he is the incumbent. At this stage it looks as if JP Pietersen has taken himself out of the equation by agreeing to a move to outside centre for the Sharks. While he has been impressive out of broken play, he still has to prove himself as an outside centre “proper”. For him to be effective he needs an inside centre who is able to create enough space for him to run strong and straight.

Perhaps he will still be able to impress Meyer if Francois Steyn decides to join the Sharks.

Another player that must have attracted the attention of Meyer is Robert Ebersohn. He has finally matured and has displayed brilliant skills and anticipation in both defence and attack for the Cheetahs thus far this year. He is a certain contender for the outside centre position.

On the wings, Bryan Habana and Lwazi Mvovo should be shoo-ins. Both have been excellent this year and will only get better over the next few weeks.

Which leaves the fullback position. While Gio Aplon is my favourite I have to say that Joe Petersen has returned from his overseas jaunt a new player. He has been very impressive thus far and if he continues like that he should be an easy selection for Meyer.

Andries Bekker needs a lock mate and at this stage it looks like an all Stormers affair with the young Eben Etzebeth and Rynardt Elstadt the strongest contenders. I am not a big fan of Flip van der Merwe, who never seems to be able to stay on his feet, whether he is carrying the ball or cleaning out at the rucks.

Pierre Spies, Willem Alberts and Heinrich Brüssow are bound to cover the back and sides of the scrum.

The South African franchises are showing great form in Super Rugby and I believe that Meyer won’t have a problem in selecting a very competitive squad for his first Test series in charge of the Springboks.

It is understandable that he would want to select a winning squad, but I believe it will still be an insult to the in-form Super Rugby players if the Springbok coach opts for overseas-based players instead.

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