Why Gio failed to crack Bok 22

Gio Aplon (File)
Gio Aplon (File)
Johannesburg - The news earlier in the week that twinkle-toed Stormers utility back Gio Aplon had been restored to Springbok plans after Zane Kirchner’s injury in the first Test against England raised hopes among his many admirers that he might at least make the match-day squad of 22 for the follow-up encounter at Coca-Cola Park here on Saturday.

Coach Heyneke Meyer announced the lone, expected alteration to the starting XV at a media briefing on Wednesday, the similarly versatile Pat Lambie - already holder of a dozen Test caps - directly replacing the Bulls man at fullback.

Perhaps a little less universally lauded will be his decision to elevate Loftus-based wing Bjorn Basson, a phenomenal fielder of high balls but arguably lacking in Aplon’s broader flair and game-breaking qualities, to the bench as Sharks favourite Lambie moves up in status for the game that could secure the Boks an early series kill.

Promoting Aplon to a role among the substitutes would certainly have represented the “sexy” option for Meyer, but he has been nothing if not consistent and honest in recent weeks about his wish to lean toward players he already knows well in the earliest part of his tenure - especially considering the crazily short turnaround from Super Rugby to Tests this year.

So the former Bulls mastermind did not surprise too many seasoned observers when he opted for the greater safety factor and stronger physical stats-carrier, if you like, in Basson.

Detractors will argue that Aplon offers greater adaptability among the back three spots, but Meyer quickly outlined his thinking at the press conference on a sun-soaked hotel lawn at Monte Casino.

“We thought about Gio ... but he hasn’t trained that much with the side. I decided that (retained starting inside centre) Frans Steyn has played fullback for Racing Metro most of this year and done well there, plus Bjorn has covered No 15 at the Bulls.

“Also, Ruan Pienaar (another reserve for Saturday’s Test) has played Test rugby at fullback as well, so we just felt there’s enough cover in that area; we want some continuity with the guys in the team and who have been around it.

“So Frans will be the first cover if necessary at fullback.”

It is difficult to quibble too much with Meyer on that score, because the imposing Steyn has served the post promisingly for the Boks before.

Indeed, before his standout performances at No 12 at last year’s World Cup in New Zealand, there was no shortage of pundits suggesting that the last line of defence might be his best slot for South Africa.

And as Meyer gets more fully immersed in his portfolio and has more time to contemplate the Boks’ later task in the reworked, four-nation Castle Rugby Championship, you do get the sense that Aplon may yet be restored to higher Bok visibility ...


South Africa:

15  Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira

Substitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Werner Kruger  , 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 Wynand Olivier, 22 Bjorn Basson



*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
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