Springboks in need of commanding display to rescue disappointing UK tour

2008-11-16 00:00

The Springbok chances of getting something out of what has become an unsatisfactory UK tour could depend on whether key players recover in time from the injuries that have made them doubtful for the clash against England.

The Boks play a replay of last year’s World Cup final at Twickenham on Saturday, and after their uninspiring 14-10 scrape against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday, they are going to require a commanding performance to save the tour.

Although the Boks have won both their games, neither of them were by more than a score, and that is not good enough at a time when the team desperately needs to regain the pride lost when they came last in the Tri-Nations.

Top of the doubtful list is hooker Bismarck du Plessis, who was forced from the field with a hamstring injury early in the first half at Murrayfield. This meant skipper John Smit had to move back to hooker, and while he played well in the position that he is used to, and some of his lineout throwing in the decisive minutes was excellent, the appearance of Brian Mujati on the right hand side of the scrum did not work out.

With England a strong scrumming team, the Bok management might find this week that they end up regretting the decision not to select the powerful Jannie du Plessis as the back-up tighthead.

Should his brother be forced out, Du Plessis is the likely replacement, for he was the standby prop named for this tour.

However, it would be asking a lot of the scrumming coach to get him effectively absorbed into the unit in the space of just a couple of days, and it would introduce question marks over the sincerity of the Mujati selection if Du Plessis was to leap-frog him into the starting team.

With Gurthro Steenkamp also injured and likely to be forced to return home, the Boks do have their problems in the front-row, and they are compounded by the relative lack of top level experience of Chiliboy Ralepelle, the man who would replace Du Plessis as the additional hooker in the playing squad.

The scrumming was horribly exposed by the Scots’ no-name brand pack in Edinburgh, and the Boks have their work cut out getting themselves ready for Andy Sheridan and England, but on the evidence of Murrayfield, it might not be their biggest worry.

Fourie du Preez will still have to undergo a fitness test before being cleared to play at Twickenham. He sat out the Murrayfield game with a quadricep injury, and his absence was almost as significant to the Boks’ poor performance as the forced changes to the front-row.

Without Du Preez alongside him to take some of the tactical kicking pressure off him and to lead with his decision-making, Ruan Pienaar took a big step backwards from his excellent performance in Cardiff.

It was largely because Pienaar was unable to take command that the Boks looked so rudderless and poor in their decision-making against the Scots, and they were not helped of course by the fact that Pienaar, after his good showing in Cardiff, had been chastised during the week by management for kicking too much and not taking enough attacking options.

As the importance of sticking to the plan and dominating with his boot was stressed again and again to him before Cardiff, you can hardly blame him if he went into Murrayfield in a confused state and it could explain why he went from kicking too much at the Millennium Stadium to running too much on Saturday.

There were too many aspects of the Bok game that were reminiscent of the dark days of the Tri-Nations, and it appeared the Boks had abandoned the territorial imperative and disciplines that had started to turn their fortunes around following their big win over Australia in Johannesburg at the end of August.

The inability to settle on a plan and stick to it under Peter de Villiers is seriously costing the Boks in their quest for credibility, in a year where they have only rarely played like the world champions that they are.

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