Duane Heath

The second-chance Springboks

2004-06-11 07:52

Bloemfontein - The Springbok team tasked with taking on Ireland in the first Test isn't so much a second-choice side as it is a side made up of men who've been given a second chance.

Bok backs coach Allister Coetzee said as much at the team's hotel earlier this week, when, tongue-in-cheek, he referred to his fleet-footed charges as a "third-string backline".

While the idea that numbers 9-15 have a 'C' team look about them is probably stretching things a bit, I know what Coetzee was getting at.

"It's been disruptive," admitted the former EP scrumhalf. "We had Percy Montgomery come here with an injury, then Jaque Fourie and Ashwin Willemse got hurt and the very big blow was losing De Wet Barry. If they'd all been fit, on paper it would've been the perfect backline with which to go into an Irish Test."

The Bok team to face Ireland has changed considerably since coach Jake White's first announcement.

In the backs, Gaffie du Toit, Breyton Paulse, Wayne Julies and Henno Mentz are about to experience the heat of the spotlight.

All four men have been given a golden opportunity - a second chance of sorts - to show they can play Test rugby. And they know now's the time to deliver.

Gaffie's full circle

In the case of Du Toit, little needs to be said about his remarkable comeback into international rugby. It's been six long years since his debut, against Ireland in Bloemfontein, so things can't have come more full circle than they have for the Stormers fullback.

Ditto for Paulse, who has probably turned the words "gotta make this count" into a maniacal mantra over the past couple of days. I wouldn't be surprised to see him pull a man-of-the-match performance out of the hat - Breyton's that kind of player.

Mentz is getting a first cap and a second chance all wrapped into one. While many thought he deserved a call-up at the outset, it was only thanks to Jaque Fourie's misfortune that the Sharks' gas man is smelling the roses in Bloem, and not kicking up his feet in Durbs.

Speaking of second chances, I guess Jaco van der Westhuyzen's getting one as well - after all, he's literally coming in from the cold. And among the forwards, the same could be said for Os du Randt, Jacques Cronjé (when Joe van Niekerk fell out) and now Gerrie Britz. The Cheetahs lock/flank literally galloped into the team's closed practice on Thursday evening, after the luckless Juan Smith pulled a hamstring.

And then, of course, there's Wayne Julies. His second chance has been five years in the making, and finally it's arrived.

A touching moment on Wednesday between Julies and De Wet Barry summed up the character of this Springbok team for me.

'It's not as bad as it looks!'

Barry, his foot in plaster and his heart no doubt bleeding, did his best to leave the Springboks' hotel in good spirits. "It's not as bad as it looks!" he said, trying hard to sound upbeat. But it's no easy task having a spring in your step when you've got crutches for legs.

Hobbling across the foyer, Barry ran into the man who will be wearing his No 12 jersey on Saturday.

"Laat dit goed gaan hierdie naweek, Wayne (Best of luck for this weekend, Wayne)," Barry said to Julies. "Julle moet net jol (you guys must just rock and roll)."

And with that, he was gone - confident his mate would do the business.

Allister Coetzee spoke with conviction earlier this week when he told me he wasn't losing any sleep over injuries to his "paper" dream team.

The names and faces may change, but there's a real collective faith, amongst the management and players, that the men coming in will get the job done.

And as one of my colleagues said last night, if South Africa can beat the Triple Crown champions with such a depleted squad, just how bad can Springbok rugby really be?

Do you agree? Tell Duane what you think.

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