Squad imbalance to cost Boks?

2007-09-04 11:35

Andrew Lanning

I, along with the rest of the country it seems, am very positive about the Boks' chances in France this year.

We have a tight five that can dominate, a loose trio that can compete with the best of them, the best scrumhalf in the world, a reliable fullback who has a better than average kicking conversion rate, some serious pace and skills out wide, and a centre pairing that shines on both attack and defence.

Our only obvious weak point, barring the lack of depth as exposed in the Connacht game, is at flyhalf.

On song, all of Butch James, Andre Pretorius and Ruan Pienaar, can do the job, but with Pretorius having been injured for such a long period of time, James still prone to the nasty no look pass and a late or no arms tackle, and Pienaar having only played for the Boks in that position in a poor warm-up game, coach Jake White has not been able to settle on a regular first choice.

If I were Jake, I would go for the raw talent of Pienaar, and attack the advantage line from the get-go.

Slightly risky, but one can always have the safety net that is Pretorius, on the bench.

Loose forward

Up front I think the selectors (read Jake White) have made two errors.

The first was to select Danie Rossouw as a loose forward.

To my mind, Rossouw could be one of the more influential players at the tournament - from the bench, coming on for Bakkies Botha, once the hard work up front has been done.

Instead, though, the selectors bogged the side down with a player like Albert van den Berg as a fourth lock.

Van den Berg will carry tackle bags for the entire tournament and take in the sights of Paris as a tourist.

He adds no value at all.

Then, given the truly traumatic news that was the forced withdrawal of human cyborg and supreme athlete, Pierre Spies, from the Bok squad, instead of trying to right this previous wrong by bringing in Jacques Cronje, who has been playing the best rugby of his life, the selectors chose to further unbalance the squad make-up by bringing in a third hooker!

This World Cup will be won on two things - defence and the impact on games by players starting on the bench.

When and who to bring off the bench is a seriously key part of rugby these days, and it is the one thing that Jake does not do well.

Hence the Boks looking so rudderless when hooker and skipper John Smit got injured for a period of time.

Not completely comfortable

Jake had played him for basically every minute of every game prior to that injury.

So instead of having a true No 8 in Cronje starting the game, and two of the great game breakers in world rugby - Rossouw and Bob Skinstad - on the Bok bench, ready to add their respective value, the Boks will seemingly start with Rossouw at No 8 - a position he is clearly not completely comfortable in, and need Skinstad to take over if the manure hits the fan.

This Bok side is probably good enough to get away with the above, especially in the pool games, but come the business end of the tournament, it will be the little things that win or lose matches, and this slight imbalance might just be the tipping point.

Enough with the waiting... bring on France 2007!

The Boks can win this thing.

  • Tank Lanning is 24.com's sports editor and the author of the blog, Front Row Grunt.

  • Send Tank your thoughts

    As News24's newest columnist, we asked Andrew to explain the myth behind his nickname, Tank.

    In a move from the relatively informal blogosphere into the scary world of being an official News24 columnist... gulp!

    My name is Andrew Lanning, but also known as Tank...

    Those with the best memories ever handed out might remember me as an SA schools tighthead prop who got a few games for Western Province when Keith Andrews was on Bok duty, while others might have come across me as the author of the Front Row Grunt blog on 24.com, but more than likely you will not have a clue as to who the hell I am!

    Well, I hope to change that with a regular column on this very website.

    It was in 1995, at the ripe old age of 24, that a particularly serious neck injury forced me to give up playing the great game, but thanks to modern medical technology, though, I have a solid piece of titanium and some fused cow bone holding my neck together, allowing me to partake in pretty much any activity I choose, bar rugby!

    After a sensational few years at UCT, where rugby might have got more of my attention than the prescribed text books, I took an interest in the media world, especially the digital side of things, and for their sins, 24.com, have been lumped with me as their sports editor.

    Hence this column.

    And without boring you to tears, the plan is to build 24.com Sport into a top notch online sports offering which will then, in turn, provide News24 with their breaking sports news, so as to offer you, the reader, a better all round editorial product.

    Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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