How Spies can still aid Boks

Pierre Spies (Gallo Images)
Pierre Spies (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - There is a very strong likelihood that current Springbok No 8 Duane Vermeulen and seasoned predecessor Pierre Spies will go head to head in Polokwane on Saturday.

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Line-ups for pre-season friendlies can be notably experimental, and you can also expect an avalanche of changes as the Bulls v Stormers encounter (17:00, no TV coverage scheduled) progresses in the summer warmth.

But at the time of writing Vermeulen seemed a good bet for a start; he was among a 26-strong squad for the trip revealed by coach Allister Coetzee on Monday, and the actual team is due to be announced at a media briefing on Wednesday.

Favourites for the Stormers loose forward positions, in a department where they have decent depth, are arguably an all-Springbok alliance of Vermeulen, vice-captain Schalk Burger and Siya Kolisi.

Although there are still two further warm-ups for the franchise - Kings and Cavaliers - Coetzee will probably want his intended first-choice loose trio to familiarise themselves as a combination as swiftly as possible, bearing in mind also that Burger has been sidelined from the Super Rugby-standard game for so long.

Meanwhile, with the Bulls also to reveal their team for the weekend on Wednesday, and captain Spies due to be seated alongside coach Frans Ludeke at the press conference, it seems logical that the fit-again 28-year-old should run out at the helm in Polokwane after missing a large chunk of 2013 with a bicep injury.

Spies ought to be a man on a mission in Super Rugby this year, as he has been overlooked for a new Bok contract - albeit that two or three berths are apparently still up for grabs on that front - and is going to have to play catch-up in his quest to add further to his 53 national caps.

The hard-toiling Vermeulen was a yeoman presence for Bok coach Heyneke Meyer last season, proving unchallenged (especially in the enforced absence of the athletic Spies) for the No 8 shirt and being rated by many neutral critics as second only on the planet to New Zealand’s Kieran Read in the position.

He is particularly well suited to the heavy going of European conditions, where the next World Cup in 2015 is to staged, so it will require a monumental effort from Spies - of whom consistent work-rate is considered a weaker string to his bow - to regain his international starting spot.

But does this mean his Test days are ominously numbered?

Not necessarily: he still possesses natural gifts in explosiveness and bursts of pure “X-factor” and is also an outstanding lineout forward.

So what price Spies reinventing himself as an impact player off the bench for South Africa?

He just seems tailor-made for a rampaging contribution with 20 or 30 minutes left on the clock, especially when games have opened up and even more so on hard, fast Highveld pitches where his pace off the mark can be a deadly weapon.

The other asset he offers is that in the event of freak depletion of backline resources (it is increasingly fashionable for forwards-heavy substitute lists to be named) the physical powerhouse could operate as an emergency wing with some comfort - older observers will recall that such service is in the family genes.

But first Spies must prove that his appetite for the top-flight game is not only still there, but maybe even enhanced, and Polokwane would be a useful start even if this match won’t receive the focus of as many eyeballs as might be desired.

The marauding Loftus favourite is no stranger to motivation tub-thumping, and perhaps a signal of fresh resolve came through the following tweet (@pierrespies8) earlier this week: “There are two types of pain in this world: pain that hurts you and pain that changes you.”

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
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