Twickers: Eben, Duane are Bok ‘standalones’

Duane Vermeulen (Gallo Images)
Duane Vermeulen (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Why, as a South African, wouldn’t you want “win over England at Twickenham” prominently placed on your CV?

It is, after all, what Lord’s is to cricket in many ways: there is little objection to its branding as the home of rugby union and it markets itself as the biggest dedicated rugby stadium in the world, with its capacity of some 82 000.

The place oozes history, despite its plethora of modernisations/expansions over the years, and first hosted an international four years before the First World War, when Wales tackled the English in 1910.

Throw in the fact that any significant sporting triumph over England goes down especially agreeably among South Africans and you can see why getting one over the host nation at their “Twickers” stronghold, in an affluent area of southwest London, is deemed a special occurrence.

It would also be a satisfying, heartening box to tick, mentally, for Rassie Erasmus’s current crop of Springboks, gearing up for the challenge there in a European tour opener on Saturday, with longer-term thinking - the similarly strenuous demands of Japan-hosted World Cup 2019 - in mind.

Interestingly, then, despite the Boks’ extremely bright recent record at the illustrious temple, with victories in five of the last six bilateral clashes there, notably few of their present squad can claim to have been part of one.

Of the tourists’ starting XV likely to be chosen for this weekend, only seasoned, heavyweight pack members Eben Etzebeth and Duane Vermeulen - twice each - know what it is like to engineer triumph over England at Twickenham.

The absence from this particular end-of-year venture of a certain Tendai Mtawarira - he of 107 caps - through injury robs these Boks of easily their premier “been there, done that” figure in terms of both appearances and wins at the venue.

Sharks favourite “Beast” has played six Tests at Twickenham - including four against England, with three victories.

He certainly goes back the furthest in Twickenham playing history of all Boks who could be said to be part, right now, of Erasmus’s plans: his first success was that memorable, record 42-6 win in 2008, almost exactly 10 years ago when he was a relatively raw 23-year-old.

Mtawarira’s other Tests at the ground were against Wales (win, quarter-final) and New Zealand (loss, semi-final) at the 2015 UK-staged World Cup.

The Boks played two other matches in London at that World Cup, a group game against the United States and bronze playoff against Argentina, but remember that both were at the Olympic Stadium.

So without his presence, the anticipated Bok XV for Saturday - to be revealed on Thursday - is likely to have in Etzebeth and Vermeulen the only members who can previously claim the English scalp in their own den.

The pair started the 2014 Test at the ground (31-28 Bok victory) and 2012 (16-15).

Several of the other current Bok squad members have one prior experience of tackling England at Twickenham, but all of them in the reasonably galling last match, when the hosts comfortably won 37-21 in 2016 to snap the sequence of five SA triumphs on the trot there between 2006 and 2014.

Into that category fall Warren Whiteley, Lood de Jager, Vincent Koch, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Willie le Roux, Damian de Allende, Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff and Franco Mostert.

Fullback Le Roux played in the 2014 Twickenham win while another overseas-based player in present plans, loose forward Francois Louw, the 2012 one, but both are expected to be ruled out of consideration for this Saturday as the Test falls outside the designated window period.

Men like the expected midfield pairing of De Allende and Jesse Kriel, flyhalf Handre Pollard and tighthead prop Frans Malherbe have not yet had the luxury of helping knock over England at Twickenham, though they do sport Test experience of the intimidating cauldron through their activities there against other opponents at RWC 2015.   

But South Africa should also be showing off for the first time this Saturday, to the generally knowledgeable Twickers faithful, several of their key, emerging figures intended to power their World Cup charge next year ... names like Malcolm Marx, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Damian Willemse and S’bu Nkosi.

Victorious first appearances by such customers at the famous stadium would only speed up their development further.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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