Boks: Coenie’s stiffest test?

Coenie Oosthuizen (Gallo Images)
Coenie Oosthuizen (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – If the Springboks stick to their current pecking order, utility prop Coenie Oosthuizen faces probably the most acid examination of his scrummaging ability as a tighthead against Italy in Padova on Saturday (16:00 SA time).

Coach Heyneke Meyer has already said that first-choice No 3 Jannie du Plessis, who hobbled off in the 65th minute of the 31-28 victory over England at Twickenham, is unlikely to be ready for the Italian challenge.

The Boks will be heavily tipped to beat them – whether they put out an experimental sort of combination or not -- but the one area where the Italians traditionally provide fierce opposition is at scrum-time, and this weekend is expected to be no different.

As former Italy coach Nick Mallett pointed out in the SuperSport studio on Saturday, they have a strong and experienced front row, especially with that burly cult figure Martin Castrogiovanni back in the mix on the tighthead side, where he should earn his 98th cap on Saturday.

The 33-year-old “Castro”, perhaps a little past his prime but still a destructive force when the mood grabs him, anchored the scrum in the narrow 20-18 loss to Argentina, the land of his birth, last time out.

With Du Plessis almost certainly unavailable for selection, Oosthuizen, who was busy in open play for his 15 minutes of late action at Twickenham, is being favoured to grab the tighthead role for the Boks, even though both Golden Lions specialist No 3 strongmen, Julian Redelinghuys and now also Ruan Dreyer, are among the greater touring squad.

Should he crack the nod, it would be just the big Cheetahs player’s second start at tighthead for South Africa, after doing the job on last year’s equivalent European tour against France in Paris, when the Boks won 19-10 and he was solid against home loosehead Yannick Forestier.

But he is still far more used to an impact role for the Boks, and some domestic scrum gurus will be nervous about how he holds up if selected against the Italians, who should field another veteran Argentinean-born prop as his direct rival at scrum time on the loosehead side, Matias Aguero.

The current first-choice Italian hooker, 69-cap Leonardo Ghiraldini, plies his trade in the rugged environment of the English Premiership with Leicester Tigers, so he will also hardly be a shrinking violet of the front row when the Boks tackle them.

Given the absence of Du Plessis at No 3, Meyer may be less likely now to rest his first-choice on the other side of the front row, Tendai Mtawarira, even though “Beast” could probably do with a mental and physical break ahead of the final tour challenge of Wales a week later.

Trevor Nyakane is the main back-up loosehead at present, although his 11 Bok appearances thus far have all been off the bench and he got only six minutes against England.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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