Boks midfield: ‘Supersub’ back in hunt

Lionel Mapoe (Gallo)
Lionel Mapoe (Gallo)

Cape Town – Lionel Mapoe’s relative success, out of position last Saturday, may have had the effect of lifting his credentials anew for his preferred outside centre berth in the Springbok team.

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You could have branded him something of a “supersub” in Mendoza last Saturday, as the Lions-based stalwart entered the fray as a first-half replacement for injured right wing Makazole Mapimpi … and things didn’t go too badly, either.

While it was true that the Boks continued to experience certain defensive trauma in the wide channels, contributing to their 32-19 humbling from Argentina, Mapoe did prove on attack that, like the man he deputised for, his finishing skills are pretty decent.

The 30-year-old got on the try-scoring sheet twice (also his first international dot-downs) in the space of 17 minutes during the second-half fightback, even if there wasn’t an awful lot for him to have to do in either instance.

It was the third time, if certain stats records are correct, that Mapoe has taken to the Test field as a wing replacement, though he is entitled to feel his versatile efforts are a little in vain: each occasion has seen the Boks slide to defeat.

The first was a 23-17 loss to Australia in Brisbane in 2016 (they play there again in the Rugby Championship on Saturday week) and the middle occasion was against England at Twickenham (37-21 reverse) later in the same year.

But the six starts Mapoe has had for the country (in a total of 14 caps since 2015) have all been at his more familiar posting of No 13.

Through his healthy enough visibility on the park at Mendoza, he may have reminded head coach Rassie Erasmus that, as much as he will continue to offer adaptable qualities as a sub, he also deserves staying in the frame for the unsettled outside centre spot.

That situation is enhanced -- if that is the right word to employ -- by incumbent Lukhanyo Am regressing quite significantly in the away match against the Pumas after a very encouraging showing against the same foes at his home venue of Kings Park only a week earlier.

SuperSport pundit and former Bok flyhalf (occasional centre too) Butch James had said after the Durban Test that he felt it was Am’s best game in Bok colours but then, as with several team-mates, it seemed to rather fall apart for him in Mendoza.

The long-limbed customer battled on defence and brought no special thrust in attacking moves either.

There are a few raw players in the Bok backline at present, the five-cap Am among them, and Erasmus could be tempted to “steel up” a little from an experience point of view for the clash with the Wallabies at Suncorp Stadium.

If that is the case, and he decides No 13 is one place requiring an alteration, then both Mapoe and the Bulls’ Jesse Kriel (32 Test appearances) probably enter the selection radar again; Kriel was left behind from the broader SA squad when they travelled to Mendoza, and played a Currie Cup game for his province last weekend.

One strong feature of Mapoe’s game is that he runs some clever, corkscrewing lines on attack, and he is prepared to make some thumping tackles even if his organisational awareness on defence can go a little astray sometimes.

Right now, he is at least reminding Erasmus: “I am around.”

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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