Bok jumpers brace for Irish onslaught

The Springbok jumpers led by Albert van den Berg will have to be at their very best to avoid being embarrassed by their Irish opponents.

With Victor Matfield rested and Bakkies Botha still recovering from a long-term injury, the Boks take on a formidable second-row combination in IRB Player-of-the-Year nominee Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan without a world class Test lock.

In addition the Irish have veteran Malcom O’Kelly to call upon from the bench whereas the Boks have on six-cap Johann Muller and openside flank Danie Rossouw as cover.

“The Irish lineout is certainly up there with the best in the world. They’re a settled combination and have many more options than just their locks,” forward coach Gert Smal told Jacques van der Westhuyzen of the Star.

“But I’m really excited about the prospects of us taking on Ireland and England without a guy like Victor. It’s opened up the door for others to get a chance.”

White won’t be short of jumpers, as his preference for tall loose forwards means Rossouw, Pierre Spies and Juan Smith will be options for hooker John Smit at the set phase.

With Matfield out, the mantel of lineout general has been passed to Van den Berg. The Sharks man has been a bit-part player in the Bok team, being used as a replacement in most of his 40 Tests. His partner Johan Ackermann’s eight Tests brings their combined tally to 48, compared to the 63 of the Irish duo.

Ackermann last played for the Boks in 2001 and was sidelined for a large part of the Sharks Absa Currie Cup campaign.

Smal though believes this won’t pose a problem.

“Our lineout system hasn’t changed really. The way we operate, it’s easy to adapt so that whoever comes into the team slots in without a problem,” said Smal.

“But with a different guy making the calls, the codes will be a little different. All teams spend a lot of time trying to crack each other’s codes so while you always attempt to stay with what’s known to the players, you’ve also got to be flexible to stay ahead of the opposition.”

Head-to-head comparison of the locks

South Africa

Albert van den Berg
Height: 2.02m
Weight: 110kg
Caps: 40

Johan Ackermann
Height: 1.97m
Weight: 112kg
Caps: 8

Ireland

Paul O’Connell
Height: 1.98m
Weight: 111kg
Caps: 36 (and three for the British and Irish Lions)

Donncha O’Callaghan
Height: 1.98m
Weight: 110kg
Caps: 27 (and two for the British and Irish Lions)