Selecting Heinrich Brüssow at No 6 would ensure breakdown continuity whereas selecting Schalk Burger would threaten it.
Burger’s belligerent style has spearheaded many a South African win while Brüssow’s pilfering exploits have been at the centre of the Boks’ recent breakdown success. One Springbok is lauded for his superhuman displays on attack and defence, while the other is celebrated for an uncoachable scavenging technique.
They’re different players competing for the same position, and there’s been much debate about just who deserves that starting spot.When it comes to Saturday’s Test in Perth, however, there should be no debate at all.
The Boks have laid the platform for a Tri-Nations win with those three victories at home. From hereon in, they need to persist with a strategy that’s proved effective. To ensure the machine continues to run at maximum power, the coaching staff needs to avoid any unnecessary tinkering.
Brüssow started against the British & Irish Lions on 20 June due to Burger’s calf injury, and despite an industrious performance, the fetcher made way for Burger in the second Test. The Bok management spoke about Burger as their No 1 openside, and the youngster humbly accepted his lot as No 2. One served suspension and eight weeks later, and the pecking order has changed.
Burger’s return to the Bok starting line-up should be delayed. The debate about who is the better player will continue, but the reality is the Boks must pick the better player for right now. A match-fit Brüssow thriving in a dominant loose-trio has to be favoured. Burger, who hasn’t played a game in two months, can be phased back from the bench. The selection ‘headache’ can continue from there.
News of Juan Smith’s fitness is a boost as the Free State blindside has been magnificent for the Boks in 2009. His aggression on defence, at the breakdown and with ball-in-hand has contributed to South Africa’s perceived hard edge. There may be more glamorous players in that Bok pack, but a pack without Smith is certainly the poorer for it.
Brüssow has also benefited from these performances while Pierre Spies has exhibited attributes that also dovetail with his loose-forward counterparts. In Burger’s absence, the Boks have built a new back row combination, one that has proved successful.
It’s now up to Burger to force his way back through weight of performance. The Bok coaches already know what the combination of Burger, Smith and Spies can give them, just as they know what Brüssow, Smith and Spies can offer. The fact that Burger hasn’t played for four Tests does make the initial partnership less attractive when selecting a team for Perth.
The Wallabies produced a stubborn defensive effort last week and will be tough to match at the breakdown. They’d prefer Rocky Elsom to Wycliff Palu as a ball-carrying option while George Smith and No 8 Richard Brown should be deployed to challenge Brüssow at the ruck.
Although they’ve been competitive, the Australians’ discipline has been a problem. Brown has received two yellow cards in as many games for infringements deemed cynical by officials. It wouldn’t surprise to see this affecting their approach in the coming Test, a Test they need to win well to remain in the Tri-Nations picture.
In preventing this result, the Boks will employ similar tactics to those used in the Newlands win. There’s no call for Ruan Pienaar to replace the invaluably accurate Morne Steyn so there shouldn’t be a call to fast track Burger. The same team needs to ensure the same game plan is carried out with the same precision.
The incumbent starting combination is the combination capable of the required precision, and should thus be entrusted to edge South Africa ever-closer to that elusive Tri-Nations title.
By Jon Cardinelli