Good call to stick with Oupa

Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
One can fully understand Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer giving Duane Vermeulen as much time as possible to recover from his rib injury. Without Francois Louw and Willem Alberts, he has not only been the leader of an inexperienced Bok loose trio, but also been truly “undies outside your shorts” herculean both with ball in hand, but especially at the breakdown, where he leads the tournament stats with 5 pilfers.

A potential head to head with Kieren Read is a thirst inducer of note. But in a game that is only about bragging rights, is it really worth risking a player of this calibre and value? He obviously wants to play, and one would expect nothing less, but is it not a perfect opportunity to have a look at Schalk Burger at 8 and give Warren Whiteley a run off the bench? A loose trio of Nizaam Carr, Burger and Marcell Coetzee would also not be the worst experiment in the world, but perhaps not against the best side in the world.

That said, there is a big break between the Rugby Championship and the Bok’s first End of Year Tour game against Ireland, so perhaps that is part of Meyer’s thinking. It might even be worth excusing Vermeulen from that tour and giving both Whiteley and Carr a proper run in the UK?

Starting Bismarck du Plessis is an excellent call. Adriaan Strauss is a classy hooker and did a good job last week, but Bismarck, to my mind, is the best in the world. Apart from what he offers at the breakdown, this Bok pack needs his brutal physicality to dominate in order for the team to play the more ball in hand game they are starting to employ.

This was made abundantly apparent against Australia when Burger came on to replace Oupa Mohoje. Through intent, rather than execution (I still don’t think he is quite the physical man-beast he was prior to his injury and illness), he took on the entire Aussie side. He made yards, committed more players to the break down, and allowed the backline to play with go forward ball. It changed the game.

A slightly risky call to stick with Mohoje given that he is not quite ready to dominate physically at the highest level. Who would in their first Test match, though? And having made the call to select him, it is only fair and right that he gets a second game, even if against the All Blacks.

Oh how tempting it must have been for the conservative Meyer to have gone with Burger at 7, with Mohoje on the bench. No one would really have blamed him, but this is a brave call that will resonate with the player and team. The cynic in me does wonder what the coach would have done had Vermeulen been fit and raring to go, though?

Speaking of temptation … Given the impact of the bench last week in Cape Town, it must have been properly tempting to start all 8 of them this week, but Meyer has got this one right. The modern day game is a 23 man affair, and having 8 guys that can make such a huge impact on a game is a fantastic weapon for a coach.

But no Bok bench will be able to save a side that plays the same way against the All Blacks as they did in the first 70 minutes at Newlands. The Aussies kick the least of all 4 Rugby Championship sides, so a structured and physical defence tends to do the job. The Wallabies have kicked just 75 times out of hand in the tournament. The All Blacks are on 126, just 10 behind the Boks, but it’s the effectiveness of said kicks that separates the two sides.

Kick aimlessly at the likes of Dagg, Smith and Savea, and they will make you pay. Prepare not for the little grubber or dink over the top that they used so well in Argentina, and you pay with points.

This is a strong Bok side that can live with the best. This is a strong All Black side that is the best. But they have travelled a long way, and already have the silverware in the cabinet. “Vat die gaping manne.”

Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop who now heads up Tankman Media, and sprouts forth on all things rugby on the Front Row Grunt.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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