Chiliboy Ralepelle is likely to replace Bismarck du Plessis for the final Test – a decision that makes no rugby sense.
Springbok assistant coach Dick Muir told the media on Tuesday the Boks would field their strongest team for the third Test in Johannesburg. Head coach Peter de Villiers added a 3-0 whitewash of the British & Irish Lions was a big goal for his side, and captain John Smit has also admitted his team haven’t produced their best rugby so far. Smit said there is much to improve.
Why then would you look to make unforced changes when the all-important Tri-Nations is just around the corner?
The Bok scrum was lauded for their effort in the first Test, but the pack hasn’t completely gelled in the two Tests thus far. They need to keep the first-choice combination intact in order to build momentum for the Tri-Nations.
Du Plessis was identified as a very special player by the Bok management and before the 2008 end of year tour, the management formulated their long-term plan around his inclusion. John Smit was forced to move to tighthead prop to make way for Du Plessis, and at the time, Smit was used as a reserve hooker.
2009 brought about a change to that dynamic with Smit told to concentrate on tighthead prop. Following the first Test, the Bok management made this announcement and Ralepelle, who can’t command a starting place at the Bulls, was drafted into the 22. A week later, the Bulls reserve hooker is replacing the Boks’ premier hooker, a player who management originally believed to be so good they moved the World Cup-winning captain to No 3.
The dropping of Du Plessis will make no sense. The Boks have made their long-term goals clear and Du Plessis is at the centre of those plans. The Bok pack needs more game time together before the Tri-Nations and Du Plessis needs to start for the Bok front row to build some synergy.
There is also debate whether Ralepelle is the second best hooker in the country (now that the Bok management don’t consider Smit an option). He hasn’t scrummed alongside Beast Mtawarira and Smit in a Test situation yet, and so to ask him to start against a Lions’ front row at Ellis Park is unfair.
By Jon Cardinelli, in Johannesburg