Corne Krige believes that Rodney So’oialo is not an adequate replacement for Richie McCaw.
So’oialo was today confirmed as captain for the first Test against the Springboks, but more pertinently, has been handed the responsibility of bossing the breakdown in the absence of formidable openside flank, McCaw.
McCaw was injured in the second Test against England a fortnight ago and is set to miss the bulk of the Tri-Nations. So’oialo has very little experience in the role, playing predominantly as a No 8 for both the Hurricanes and All Blacks.
Former Springbok captain, Krige, was perplexed by the decision, admitting that he thought Chris Masoe would be the logical option. He believes the move gives the Springboks a significant edge at the breakdown – a facet of play that will be central to success.
“I thought it was just nothing talk when they were touting So’oialo as a possible openside. He’s best position is clearly No 8 and I don’t think his strength is playing towards the ball,” Krige told keo.co.za.
“Masoe is far more suited to the role, has experience playing there and provides you with a solid ball carrying option as well. I think the Springboks will be smiling when they see this call. Perhaps [the All Blacks] were looking for a player that could provide them with another lineout option. But other than that I can’t understand the decision.
“As far as McCaw goes, he’s a massive loss from both a playing and leadership perspective. I’m not sure So’oialo commands the same respect.”
So’oialo is the only seasoned Test player in a loose trio that features rookies Jerome Kaino and Adam Thomson. The Springboks, by contrast, are expected to field an experience trio of Schalk Burger, Juan Smith and Pierre Spies. Burger, widely recognised as one of the premier openside flankers in world rugby, will go head-to-head with So’oialo.
Krige, however, hopes that Ryan Kankowski, concussed in the Test against Italy two weeks ago, will recover in time to oust Spies.
“I think Kankowski has done enough in the Super 14 to earn a start ahead of Spies,” he said. “Spies never really showed that much in the Incoming Tours and given the style of play [coach] Peter de Villiers has been speaking about it makes sense to have a eigthman like Kankowski. He also gives the team another option in the lineout.”
In fact, Krige can’t find a place for Spies in his match 22.
“I would use Luke Watson off the bench instead of Spies,” he said. “Please understand that I think Spies can be phenomenal on his day, but Luke will provide a different dimension to the trio and ensures that there is a sustained threat at the breakdown. He has also shown the ability to offload in contact, which will be crucial if the Springboks are to play that high tempo style that’s been spoken about.”
However, while Krige thinks the battle of the back rows will be important in determining the winner, he pointed to the set phases as being the decisive facet of play.
“I think we’ll trouble them at the lineouts which will give us a advantage and a mental edge, but I’m not convinced our scrum will stand up,” he said.
“They’ve made a major mistake in leaving a strong scrummager like BJ Botha at home. I can’t understand that and it wasn’t very sharp. To take rookie props [Brian Mujati and Tendai Mtawarira] on the tour of New Zealand is questionable.
“If you are dominated in the lineouts you can put it down to the technical superiority of the opposition and you can circumvent that issue by changing certain tactics. But if you’re being dominated in the scrums it has a major psychological impact because you’re losing a one-on-one battle and are essentially being bullied and physically beaten.
“The All Blacks backline is dangerous at the best of times but with an attacking platform [if they dominate the scrums] they can be devastating. We’ll have to work hard and smart there or we could be in trouble.”
By Ryan Vrede