Boks must beef up for Samoa

Francois Louw (Gallo Images)
Francois Louw (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – If Scotland were fiercely committed but not especially scary from a muscular point of view against the Springboks, expect Samoa to offer both qualities in the Loftus final of the four-team Test tournament next Saturday (17:15).

The Scots effectively “spoiled” their way to a brave defeat against the host nation at Mbombela Stadium; the Samoans may try to do much of the same but they will also meet fire with fire through their famous – sometimes infamous? -- physicality against the Boks.

So it is essential that South Africa, who will start as clear favourites again despite their troubles at Nelspruit, assemble their earthiest possible pack to ensure they not only dominate the set-pieces, as they really should against the Pacific Islanders, but also hit rucks with infinitely better venom and precision than they did en route to the flawed win against the Scots.

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There is one immediately obvious way in which coach Heyneke Meyer will strengthen his forward brew, considering that his wedding card to Bath-based Francois Louw may have read something like this: “Hope you’ve had a good one, Flo ... but report back to camp at 07:30 on Monday, please.”

Clearly the honeymoon will have to have been either incredibly short or more likely postponed for Louw, whose breakdown attributes coupled with the fact that he is a forceful ball-carrier will be manna from heaven against the Samoans, presumably cock-a-hoop after the way they dismantled Italy in the early game at Nelspruit.

They are not to be under-estimated, but if the Springboks box clever enough this time they really ought to clean them up reasonably convincingly back on their beloved Highveld.

While there are no guarantees, given that Meyer will have to think deeply about what represents the best loose-trio balance next weekend, it seems pretty likely that impressive debutant Siya Kolisi, who got an unexpectedly generous 76 minutes off the bench against Scotland after the unfortunate, reasonably long-term knee injury suffered by Arno Botha, will get a maiden start.

Both he and Louw, who preceded him by a year or so in the Stormers ranks, can play very capably to the ball while also being easily interchangeable, if required, as blind-siders.

Should this pair be placed together, the No 8 bacon of unconvincing Pierre Spies may be saved, primarily because of his undeniable abilities at the back of the lineout (and perhaps even to make the calls in that department, depending on the second-row combination fielded against Samoa).

Bulls captain Spies has flattered to deceive in general play during the June Test window thus far, although the ongoing absence for the time being of Duane Vermeulen, who lacks his pace but usually eclipses him comfortably for pure work rate, also aids his bid to stay in the mix right now.

If Willem Alberts is deemed fit for combat next Saturday, perhaps a place among the substitutes for the “Bone Collector” as a second-half impact factor would be a wise call.

I believe it is also well worth Meyer seriously thinking about trying out front lock Eben Etzebeth in the No 5 jersey – he performed the role very well for the Stormers recently – at the expense of so-so Juandre Kruger, thus facilitating further grunt at No 4 from Flip van der Merwe, who got a short stint off the bench again at Nelspruit.

Most at risk in the under-performing Bok front row, you would think, is loosehead prop Tendai Mtawarira, who looks a shadow of his former self in just about all capacities; the extra bulk and tight-loose aggression of Coenie Oosthuizen is arguably due promotion to the No 1 jersey although Cheetahs colleague Trevor Nyakane has good claims too.

Bismarck du Plessis? The fast-rehabilitating hooker showed promising traces of his old appetite in a late introduction against Scotland, and is just the sort of man needed to repel the Samoan ruggedness.

Whether he possesses 80-minute sort of stamina yet remains to be seen, but if Adriaan Strauss – who badly needs a break anyway – is lurking reassuringly among the subs then there is no special risk in seeing how Du Plessis fares from the outset.

Some tweaking is also possible to the Bok back division, with Pat Lambie crying out for a return to favour at flyhalf after Morne Steyn regressed rather badly against the Scots – though Steyn’s Loftus familiarity and relish for the venue will have to be considered. 

A suitable Bok pack to tackle the Samoans should perhaps look like this: Coenie Oosthuizen, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Flip van der Merwe, Eben Etzebeth, Francois Louw, Siya Kolisi, Pierre Spies.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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