Heinrich Brüssow must be given an extended run with the Springboks as he is the one player who can make a strong case for starting a specialist openside flank.
Schalk Burger’s eight week suspension for eye gouging British & Irish Lions wing Luke Fitzgerald in the second Test rules him out of the all but three Tri-Nations fixtures, and Brüssow should fill the void Burger leaves.
He has impressed in his three appearances for the Springboks, particularly in Pretoria on Saturday, where he made a telling contribution off the wood, making three vital turnovers, and injecting intensity into the side on attack and defence.
In the first Test at King’s Park his ability to slow the ruck recycle made the Springboks’ defensive task considerably easier, and his value was only fully appreciated when he was substituted in the final quarter.
His substitution, for Danie Rossouw, left the Springboks without a player as proficient at competing on the deck, and the Lions capitalised immediately, troubling the hosts because of the speed they were able to generate on their recycle. Brüssow would have the same influence on Saturday at Loftus when he was introduced.
The Springboks’ coaching staff insist that Burger and Brüssow are cut from the same cloth, but the reality is that while Burger playing to potential is an infinitely more powerful ball carrier, as well as a lineout option, Brüssow is a far superior fetcher.
Springbok captain John Smit described him as being ‘born to operate in the dark recesses of the ruck’, and Lions opensiders David Wallace and Martyn Williams lauded Brüssow’s ability to disrupt the flow and tempo of their play because of his efficiency at the breakdown.
A loose trio of Burger, Juan Smith and Pierre Spies worked for former Springbok coach Jake White because his game plan was largely more direct and conservative. Peter de Villiers’s romantic notion that the Springboks can run teams off their feet has been exposed in the past when he hasn’t played a specialist scrapper. Australia in Perth in 2008, New Zealand in Cape Town in their first home Test of the Tri-Nations and Australia a week later in Durban were all prime examples of that assertion.
The argument that the Springboks won without a specialist in Dunedin and Johannesburg in the Tri-Nations and on the year end tour against Wales, Scotland and England is flawed, as they reverted to a far more structured approach in those matches – one that resembled the 2007 Springboks – and one where three ball carrying loose forwards weren’t a liability.
It’s not a judgement of his preferred style. It’s a personal view that that approach necessitates the inclusion of a specialist fetcher who acts as a defensive weapon (by turning over ball from isolated players) should teams attempt to hit the Springboks in the wide channels.
It’s too soon to make an absolute judgement on Brüssow, but his first three caps have suggested that he has the aptitude to excel on the Test stage. He must be given an opportunity.
By Ryan Vrede, in Johannesburg