Cape Town – Squeeze the customary hour or so out of stalwart Jannie du Plessis on the tighthead side of the scrum and South Africa should stave off any significant trauma in that department.
But if the good doctor were to unexpectedly succumb to any mishap notably early on, coach Heyneke Meyer’s decision to restore Coenie Oosthuizen to main back-up staffer in the berth for Saturday’s Test against Ireland in Dublin could come under particularly harsh scrutiny.
The recall of the beefy Cheetahs favourite to the Bok bench, in place of injured Marcel van der Merwe, is the only alteration to the entire match 23 which did duty in the thrilling 27-25 triumph over the All Blacks a few weeks ago.
It will raise eyebrows among scrum aficionados who question Oosthuizen’s set-piece competence, especially as he is short of game-time of late and still thought by many to be much more of a factor on the loosehead side, where Trevor Nyakane currently covers Tendai Mtawarira at Bok level.
In announcing his squad to tackle the Six Nations champions, Meyer felt it necessary to emphasise that specialist No 3 Julian Redelinghuys – the new cap from the Golden Lions – had been considered for a role among the subs.
“(But) Coenie knows the way we play well ... he’s in great shape and we know what he can do, especially if he has to make an impact off the bench.”
By “impact off the bench” Meyer clearly means the ideal-world scenario, where a starting prop comes off after a solid shift fairly deep in the second half and the fresh legs of his replacement – plus tiring first-choice opposition -- compensate for any scrummaging shortcomings that may or may not be part of his make-up.
What he doubtless envisages is Oosthuizen making a mighty impact as a ball-carrier and contributor of rare volumes of extra weight to Bok rolling mauls and the like.
He probably doesn’t want, deep down, to have to chew on the likelihood of the Free Stater getting on the park too early and having to pack down in an extended bout of scrums.
That said, Meyer will not have forgotten that on the only occasion Oosthuizen has ever started a Test at tighthead, also in a winter northern hemisphere environment, his choice in the role did a suitably resilient job against France’s Castres veteran Yannick Forestier as the Boks won 19-10 in Paris last year.
Opting for Oosthuizen above the top-flight rookie Redelinghuys may also have been influenced, in no small measure, by the fact that Ireland will be without comfortably their best loosehead, Cian Healy.
A starter in three previous Tests against the Boks, including a 15-10 triumph over them in at Croke Park in 2009, 27-year-old Healy is a long-term absentee with a serious hamstring injury and that automatically takes some sting out of the Irish assault at scrum time.
Neither of Dave Kilcoyne or Jack McGrath -- reportedly the two men vying for his No 1 jersey ahead of the Ireland team announcement this week -- has quite the same aura at the highest level.
Besides, noises from the Bok camp suggest Oosthuizen has
done vigorous conditioning work during his layoff: might he even surprise -- in
the best possible ways -- at the set-piece if summoned to the fray?
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