Springboks’ lineouts now vulnerable

2011-09-17 00:00

THE Springboks will take on Fiji in their second Rugby World Cup outing this morning without a specialist lineout jumper in their 22-man squad.

The two-metre tall Johann Muller, the former Sharks lock now with Ulster, yesterday failed a fitness test on his hamstring strain and he will join another hamstrung lock, veteran Victor Matfield, in the grandstand.

Loose forward Willem Alberts will now cover the second-row off the bench while flank Francois Louw joins the replacements.

Muller, an obvious replacement when Matfield went down with injury against Wales, has missed the week’s preparations because of his muscle strain and was only named on the bench with two scrummaging locks, Bakkies Botha and Danie Rossouw, paired in the second row. The situation is far from ideal.

The Springboks have for years had the most feared lineout in world rugby, a strength which has suited their tactical kicking game, with Matfield partnering Botha at lock, tall flank Juan Smith providing height at the tail and Andries Bekker a lanky option off the bench.

But, with Matfield and Muller injured, and Bekker and Smith missing the RWC, the Springboks are suddenly vulnerable in an area of previous strength.

Instead of a lineout jumper paired with a scrummager (Matfield and Botha) at lock, the Springboks have been forced to start two number four locks (Botha and Danie Rossouw) with another, Alberts, on the bench.

Against a free-flowing Fijian team not famous for their technique in the lineout and scrum, the Springboks are unlikely to be seriously exposed, but coach Peter de Villiers will be desperate to have Matfield and Muller back for the Samoan game in a fortnight and then the play-offs.

Rule number one when you play percentage rugby— the old-fashioned, 10-man game — is that the lineout must be dominant and the current pack will be tested.

The Springboks’ principal aim today will be to deny the dangerous Fijians possession and space. Assistant coach Gary Gold said yesterday that the Boks allowed the Welsh to play far too much rugby in Sunday’s opener and the Fijians, with their flair, strong supporting play and pace, will be far more dangerous if afforded the same attacking opportunities.

The Boks, by driving, mauling and applying pressure at the set piece, have to squeeze the life out of the Fijians. They also have to protect their possession and kick accurately to prevent the Fijians counter-attacking and running from broken play, and they have to keep to their structures and make their tackles.

The timing of De Villiers’ substitutions could also be decisive. De Villiers and assistant coach Dick Muir have made a number of confused and confusing replacement calls since the 2009 British Lions tour, often attempting to fix what was not broken in making changes and instead breaking the Springboks’ rhythm.

But they do have a couple of influential players — Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Hougaard and Alberts — on the bench and they should be involved sooner rather than later.

South Africans, shaken by the fortunate win over the Welsh, will want an emphatic statement, one which will confirm that John Smit’s Springboks are genuine RWC title contenders.

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