2018: Two most endangered Bok stalwarts

Beast Mtawarira (Supplied)
Beast Mtawarira (Supplied)

Cape Town – Between them, they boast a not-to-be-sniffed-at 144 Test caps for South Africa.

But of the more established pieces to the Springbok furniture in recent seasons, Damian de Allende from the backline and Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira in the pack are arguably the most imperilled – based on events during the 2018 campaign -- when it comes to selection for the 2019 cause, including the World Cup in Japan.

In the case of midfielder De Allende, his muted performance on the end-of-year tour of the northern hemisphere almost certainly did him more harm than good, while Mtawarira’s case is quite the opposite: he may have lost some ground for missing out on the trek and seeing others prosper at his specialist position of loose-head prop.

Here is my assessment of two most conspicuous, shaky-foothold Bok stalwarts from 2018 …

BACKLINE: Damian de Allende (37 caps)

Back in 2015, which included the last World Cup in the United Kingdom, the Springboks got decent value often enough out of a centre pairing of De Allende and Jesse Kriel.

Certainly, then-coach Heyneke Meyer seemed happy enough with the way they dovetailed at that time, and they got as far together as a RWC semi-final appearance against the All Blacks, a game where the Boks were nosed out 20-18.

This season, Rassie Erasmus has liberally fielded them as a unit, too … but sadly with gradually regressing levels of success, especially when it comes to the need for suitable attacking oomph.

Kriel’s ongoing status, make no mistake, is under scrutiny as well, but he has at least been defensively resolute (as well as a spirited organiser in that area) for the most part – a redeeming quality.

In the case of De Allende, his troubles of late have been more general.

While he has seldom lacked the necessary desire in tackling terms, sometimes expensive lapses in concentration have been too noticeable in recent weeks.

And what has become of his twinkle-toed qualities as an attacker from the No 12 berth? Or those “Sonny Bill-style” offloads that were a booming feature of his game three or four years ago?

Yes, the just turned 27-year-old De Allende did attack the advantage line with some gusto against England at Twickenham recently, but even then it was problematic in its own way: it left a lingering feeling that he too often overlooks the ability to “look up” and to better help tee up running opportunities for wider men in a Bok backline not lacking sharp, hungry flyers.

And against all of France, Scotland and Wales, as the tour cranked onward, he almost undeniably slipped too frequently below his known, best standards.

Attractive alternative options at twelve will, almost certainly, surface in 2019, with Jan Serfontein’s name increasingly back in conversations and someone like flyhalf Handre Pollard’s versatility – he has looked educatively sprightly in bursts at inside centre – also under a favourable microscope.

PACK: Tendai Mtawarira (107 caps)

Right up to the end of the Rugby Championship, humble Bok favourite Mtawarira had played his customary, fulsome part in the Bok season, his 11th.

He’d been involved in nine matches, although towards the end of that sequence he played three of four Tests off the bench – already a signal of the rise and rise of the younger Steven Kitshoff.

Much of the time, nevertheless, the gnarly old pro had still been pulling his weight sufficiently, being rock-solid in the scrums even if flame-haired Kitshoff was beginning to earn better traction as a ball-carrier with his more upright style (there is still a school of thought that “Beast” sometimes goes to deck earlier than he ideally should).

But then another impediment struck the veteran: a neck injury sustained in the pulsating Loftus Test against the All Blacks, ruling him out of the traditional end-of-year tour.

What that meant was a golden opportunity – after many, many prior caps as an impact man – for Kitshoff to establish himself in the No 1 jersey, a chance he quite pleasingly grabbed on the four-Test venture.

While not at his vintage best himself on the drive or as a clattering tackler (signs of late-season fatigue, maybe?) the Stormers player, 26, did enough in Europe to suggest that more regular occupation of top spot in the loose-head pecking order is well within his grasp in all-important 2019.

What’s more, Mtawarira faces another, mounting threat from the man-mountain who is Thomas du Toit, his versatile Sharks colleague.

The “Tank Engine” played with serious zeal whenever introduced in the second half on tour, both as a scrummager and in general play where he used his 136kg frame to assertive effect as a carrier, mauler and sometimes pilferer as well.

Du Toit, a player clearly on the rise at 23, must be suffering from an identity crisis of sorts as the predominant plan has been to transfer him to the demands of tighthead – but he looked a real menace back on his old, still more familiar side of the scrum whenever replacing Kitshoff.

I’m still about 75 percent sure the massively experienced, popular Mtawarira is going to make the cut for the World Cup squad.

But he needs to keep a very beady eye open, over his shoulder, in the earlier parts of next season; he’s no longer a fait accompli in the mix.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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