Gurthro, Coenie lucky Boks

Gurthro Steenkamp (Gallo Images)
Gurthro Steenkamp (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Two hefty front-rankers who appeared to be skating on thin ice for future Springbok involvement earlier this year have earned a slightly surprising reprieve for the traditional end-of-year tour.

Certainly some eyebrows will be raised among scrumming aficionados, in particular, that both Gurthro Steenkamp and Coenie Oosthuizen have cracked the nod in Heyneke Meyer’s 36-strong party after struggling to impose themselves in the department this year.

The 33-year-old, Toulouse-based Steenkamp earned the last of his 52 Test caps by starting the ill-fated - at least from a set-piece point of view - Castle Rugby Championship match against Argentina at Salta in August, where the Bok scrum was gallingly marched back metres at a time despite the fortuitous 33-31 win.

Opinionated former Bok loosehead Ollie le Roux took to Twitter on that occasion to brutally brand Steenkamp a “massive weakness” in the scrums against the revved-up Pumas.

Once a forceful Bulls factor at Super Rugby and Currie Cup level, Steenkamp has too often looked lethargic and off the pace of the game in recent appearances for South Africa.

But if Steenkamp has struggled to assert himself at scrum time, then the gargantuan Cheetahs unit Oosthuizen, several years his junior at 25, has probably found it even tougher in that regard during the course of the 2014 season.

In his case, at least he can boast the excuse of having been yanked from pillar to post - or read, damagingly alternated between loosehead and tighthead - in a strategy that has done him no special favours and probably only given him something of an identity crisis.

He has also been a victim of reasonably long-term injury disruption this year, although Meyer has made the point that he believes the 127kg specimen is in “excellent condition”, presumably meaning that the big prop has been doing strong out-of-competition fitness graft.

One thing can be said with some conviction about many of the coach’s squad picks over the past three years, however: there can be decent method to his apparent madness.

He is quite big on “mentoring” and may well believe that Steenkamp, who has now been based in Europe for around four years, can offer useful wisdom on northern hemisphere scrumming techniques and conditions to less experienced front-rowers in the current Bok mix.

It would certainly apply to someone like Julian Redelinghuys, the emerging Golden Lions strongman, 25, who may pack down on the other side of the scrum to Steenkamp but is a specialist in exactly the berth the bald veteran goes head to head with every weekend in first-class rugby.

Sound justification for taking Oosthuizen along, meanwhile, is that he remains a particularly useful impact player off the bench.

Just for example, imagine if the Boks are forcing rolling maul after rolling maul near the opposition try-line to attempt to close out a tight Test in driving rain and mud on this four-match venture: Oosthuizen’s fresh ballast is an attractive option in such circumstances, not to mention for his killer carries at close or near-close quarters.

Even so, some critics can hardly be blamed for suggesting someone like Steenkamp is fortunate to be included, given the often destructive set-piece performances in the Currie Cup of Schalk van der Merwe in the No 1 jersey for the Lions - goodness knows how many penalties he won for his side in the 2014 campaign simply for the heat he placed on various rival tightheads, a trend that continued into the ding-dong showpiece against WP on Saturday.

Meyer may well have taken the view that it is only really worth infusing one out-and-out prop rookie (Redelinghuys) into the Bok culture on this particular European tour.

Let’s not forget that it will be a surprise if he deviates - at least for the key first two assignments against Ireland and England respectively - from his old, trusted starting front row firm of Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and Jannie du Plessis.

Steenkamp is also likely to be only third in the squad pecking order for loosehead duty, also falling behind Trevor Nyakane who was asserting himself quite nicely there as a substitute towards the end of the Championship recently.

In broader terms, though, the make-up of Meyer’s group does not warrant any major raspberries from the often provincially-jaundiced SA public: the five complete greenhorns (Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee, Jaco Kriel, Nizaam Carr and Seabelo Senatla) all fittingly come from the two unions who most lit up the 2014 Currie Cup and its distinguished final ...

The Springbok squad for the Outgoing Tour 2014:

Forwards (20): Bakkies Botha, Schalk Burger, Nizaam Carr, Marcell Coetzee, Robbie Coetzee, Eben Etzebeth, Lodewyk de Jager, Jaco Kriel, Victor Matfield, Teboho Mohoje, Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Julian Redelinghuys, Gurthro Steenkamp, Adriaan Strauss, Duane Vermeulen, Warren Whiteley

Backs (16): Damian de Allende, Johan Goosen, Bryan Habana, Cornal Hendricks, Francois Hougaard, Patrick Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo, Ruan Pienaar, JP Pietersen, Handre Pollard, Cobus Reinach, Willie le Roux, Seabelo Senatla, Jan Serfontein, Morne Steyn, Jean de Villiers (captain)

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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