Playing Jean de Villiers alongside Jaque Fourie will alter the Springbok dynamic, fortunately for the better.
Adi Jacobs was due to start at inside centre against the All Blacks but was sent home on Monday after he failed to recover from a groin injury. On Tuesday, Bok coach Peter de Villiers denied Jacobs would have started at No 12 and proceeded to tell keo.co.za that while the injury was a big blow, he had the reserve players to ensure South Africa’s game plan would remain unchanged.
However, De Villiers subsequently admitted Jacobs and Jaque Fourie brought ‘different flavours’ to the game. Never a truer word said in contradiction, Pete.
Fourie will bolster the Boks significantly at No 13 just like Jean de Villiers will bolster the Boks significantly at No 12. As a combination, they will give the Boks what they’ve been lacking for 12 months: defensive security and attacking momentum.
Jean de Villiers’s much publicised move to Munster was confirmed on Tuesday and Saru and the Bok management have made it clear they want locally-based players starting for the national side. With De Villiers on the way to Dublin after the Tri-Nations, it appears as if the management were looking at Jacobs as a long-term replacement.
But Jacobs’s injury has forced the management to favour a tried-and-tested combination. The Springboks’ chances of winning in Bloemfontein will have increased, as there are several advantages to starting De Villiers and Fourie as a combination.
All Blacks centre Ma’a Nonu will have his wish this Saturday, as De Villiers will be waiting for him in that first centre channel. As a formidable outside channel defender, Fourie should make De Villiers’s job simpler.
For all their perceived success in the last year the Bok midfield combo of De Villiers and Jacobs have struggled as defensive unit, poor communication being only one pitfall. Jacobs missed a number of tackles but in making a tackle he often failed to stop the attack from crossing the advantage line. Fourie has the physique to knock attacking runners back, as does De Villiers, attributes that will be needed against an All Blacks’ backline that includes the 105kg Nonu and 100kg Sitiveni Sivivatu.
On attack, the Boks now have the beef to breach the gain line, an advantage that should make the opposition suffer off the second phase. De Villiers, with his 100kg bulk, is often used to set the platform and attract multiple defenders while Fourie also takes some stopping when in possession. Both players are capable of offloading in the tackle, a feature that should further aid the Bok momentum.
Jacobs scored some spectacular tries in 2008 thanks to some great anticipation and running lines. But when defences are tight, he has battled to make an impact.
The All Blacks lapsed in the first half of the Eden Park Test, but their defence sharpened considerably in the second period and eventually won them the game. They will be focused on producing an 80-minute effort because of their inconsistency against the Wallabies.
The success of Saturday’s midfield pairing could provide Peter de Villiers with a poser. At this stage, there is no clarity on the extent of Jacobs’s groin ailment, but if Jean and Jaque rediscover the magic of 2005, Jacobs may not make the starting line-up next Saturday, fit or not.
It would be a tough decision for the management to make if they are truly considering De Villiers a non-option while he’s at Munster. They have to think of the future, but at the same time, winning the Tri-Nations is top priority.
Fourie is yet to confirm a move to French club Clermont. Will this also jeopardise his involvement in the starting line-up if he announces the move before the end of the Tri-Nations, or will the management again prize the trophy over their Bok’s future plans?
For now, we will see the best Bok midfield combination in action. Providing the forwards play to potential at the weekend and expose the All Blacks’ poor lineout, we could well see the backline producing a more consistent performance.
Seeing that success, the Bok management may find it difficult to deny players with overseas club ambitions a starting spot.
Jacobs’s injury was a blessing in disguise, as it forced the Bok coaches to reunite De Villiers and Fourie. Saturday will reveal the benefits of starting a combination that has long been feared by the Australasians.
By Jon Cardinelli, in Bloemfontein