BJ's departure a blessing?

2007-10-02 09:37

Tank Lanning

If somebody had said to Jake White four years ago that his side would need to beat Fiji and Argentina in the quarters and semis in order to get to the Rugby World Cup final against the All Blacks, he or she would have been accused of smoking something a lot more sinister than their socks!

Yet that is exactly what is on the cards for the Boks! And let's face it, were this not a World Cup, and the Boks were on a tour that would see them play these two sides, the Boks would be hauling out their dirt trackers and the public would be focusing on the cricket in Pakistan, that seems by the way, to be spelling the end of another iconic Pollock career...

But it is the World Cup, and any slip-ups mean the end of a side's quest to be the world champions, and it will be viewed by millions. So yes, it is different, but the Boks will do well to put it into some sort of perspective based on this tour example - what a sensational opportunity!

Now while an obvious observation on this World Cup has been the demise of the Six Nations countries, much to the IRB's consternation no doubt, another has been the revelation that has been the South Sea island sides.

Sure Samoa have always been there or there about, and have probably disappointed a little this time round, but Tonga and Fiji are definitely eyeballing the rugby landscape from a different rung on the ladder. And to my mind, the Boks have already beaten the two stronger sides of the three...

So what of the Boks?

I am enormously positive about our men in Green and Gold, and truly believe they are the only side in the tournament who can actually give the All Blacks a run for their money. Sure it is always a little grim to lose the hosts, but it would be a dream final to cap what has been a tournament so classically embraced by the locals.

I would never ever wish an injury on any player, and I do feel truly sorry for BJ Botha, but to my mind, as said in a previous column, I do think his departure actually leaves the Boks stronger. I am told by a very reliable source, close to CJ van der Linde, that the reason White went for Botha against the English, was because Eddie Jones told him that scrum-wrecker supreme, Andy Sheridan, struggles against shorter props.

Now Jones has done a lot right this World Cup, and changed the way the Boks play rugby, but one thing that is definitely not his strong suite, is front row expertise - in fact it was one of the reasons the Aussies got rid of him! But one thing that is for sure, is that Jones definitely has White's ear, and even though we all witnessed what happened to BJ against the Poms, it seemed that BJ was going to be White's man.

But CJ is the better tighthead - both come scrum time, and as shown against the Americans on Sunday, with ball in hand on a rampaging run or three. And BJ's replacement, Jannie du Plessis, does not weaken the squad in any way.

That said, while the scrumming did improve when CJ was on the field on Sunday, it is on the tighthead side that the Bok scrum is still taking strain - worryingly, even against the USA. The All Blacks, with Carl Hayman and Tony Woodcock at the helm, certainly now target this area of the game, and the Boks will need to improve just to gain some sort of parity.

Fiji would not test a second tier provincial scrum, but the Argentineans are a very different story, given their "Bajada" technique that has seen them front one of the better scrums in world rugby for a good few years now. But now that the Boks will settle on a Du Randt, Smit and Van de Linde front row for the next three vital games, I think we can sort out this most vital platform...

  • Tank is Sport24 editor and the author of the blog, Front Row Grunt.

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