Jannie flies in to replace Bismarck du Plessis in Bok’s puzzling front-row switch

2008-11-17 00:00

HE was the controversial omission from the initial tour party, but Sharks prop Jannie du Plessis could well find himself thrust into an important role for the Springboks in the big match of the tour against England on Saturday.

Du Plessis arrived yesterday to replace his brother Bismarck. The hooker suffered what team doctors referred to as a grade two hamstring injury early in Saturday’s 14-10 win over Scotland, and Gurthro Steenkamp joined him on the flight home after going over on his ankle.

John Smit, as he did in Edinburgh, will probably move back to his regular position of hooker, but there is an outside chance he will continue at tighthead with reserve hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle taking the No. 2 jersey.

Caoch Peter de Villiers was less non-committal than just outright confusing when he was questioned on this issue yesterday.

“I must expect my players to be able to change from the way we have prepared if circumstances change, so I cannot be rigid in my thinking when circumstances surrounding my plans change,” said De Villiers, whose first appearance in front of the English media bordered on the comical.

The other option open to De Villiers is to start with Brian Mujati at tighthead, so keeping the front-row that finished the game in Edinburgh. If you consider that Du Plessis wasn’t chosen as the initial back-up prop to Smit, you would imagine the politicians might exert behind-the-scenes pressure on De Villiers, because allowing Du Plessis to leapfrog over Mujati would make the initial selection appear to be window-dressing.

But the Bok management made it known during the press conference yesterday that Mujati is suffering from bruising to his right shoulder. According to team doctor Craig Roberts, there is confidence that Mujati will recover, and the fact that no further replacement has been called up suggests that this borders on near-certainty. But it may just have given the Bok management a bit of room to manoeuvre in their quest to include Du Plessis from the start.

It is understandable that Mujati is being developed as a tighthead for the future, but against England it is crucial for all of the members of the front-row to be experienced. If they are criticised by the Parliamentary Sports Portfolio Committee, they would have made the rod for their own backs, but the need to win on Saturday must surely see Du Plessis come into strong consideration to start.

“Maybe it will be a good thing because he is a new player with fresh ideas and fresh legs, just what we need at the moment,” said De Villiers.

In saying that there is fatigue, De Villiers is surely also giving a good reason why gifted players like Ryan Kankowski, Jaque Fourie and Frans Steyn should start against England. None of those players have started yet on tour so they shouldn’t be tired.

Fourie showed in his time as a replacement that he is worth a place in the starting line-up. With Bryan Habana in poor form, there might be a move to field him at wing, but his best position is centre, where his greater presence might make him a better bet than Adi Jacobs.

Steyn could also play wing, but this could be the perfect time to shift him back to the position which many people still see as his future — fullback. It was in the No. 15 jersey at Twickenham in 2006 that Steyn first made his mark, and his ability to kick the ball long distances and his safety under the high ball make him the perfect man to fill the last line of defence.

The good news is that Fourie du Preez’s condition has improved. The scrumhalf worked out yesterday and Roberts said that he felt strong.

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