Bok back-row blunders continue

JON CARDINELLI says the axing of Francois Louw is a sure sign the Springbok selectors learned nothing from the Australasian beatings.

Louw’s been selected for Saturday’s Currie Cup clash between WP and the Bulls. WP coach Allister Coetzee said he would play the Boks who don’t make the final 24-man squad, and Louw’s selection suggests the flanker isn’t being considered for the 21 August Test against the All Blacks.

Dewald Potgieter will also return to the Bulls, which leaves loose forwards Schalk Burger, Ryan Kankowski, Juan Smith, and Pierre Spies in contention for the Soweto fixture. Burger, Smith and Spies will start, and while they’ve been such a formidable combination in the past, it’s clear the current breakdown laws demand the inclusion of somebody who plays to the ball.

Heinrich Brüssow was the top fetcher in the world in 2009, besting prominent breakdown bandits like Richie McCaw and George Smith. After Brüssow’s season-ending injury in early 2010, Louw was identified as the alternative. He made a great start in the preliminaries but then battled behind a losing tight five in the two defeats to New Zealand.

Surprisingly, the Bok selectors opted to replace Louw with Kankowski for the final tour match against Australia. Predictably, the Boks were completely outclassed by a Wallabies back row that boasted a better balance, and more importantly, a specialist fetcher in David Pocock.

The Bok selectors who explained Kankowski’s inclusion as one that would speed up their game were exposed. You cannot hope to put speed on the ball (or deny the opposition a quick ruck recycle) if you don’t have a breakdown specialist. Louw should have played in Brisbane, and he’s a must if the Boks want to combat McCaw and Pocock in the coming three Tests.

Burger and Smith are no slouches on the deck, but their ball-poaching strengths cannot match those of the best fetchers. A trio of Burger, Smith and Spies is geared for ball carrying which is fine as long as the Boks are on the attack, and on the Highveld it will work to some extent. But consider how well the All Blacks and Wallabies retained possession in the Tests against the Boks, and you will realise why a ball-stealer is so vital.

You would hope there’s been some mistake and that Louw will return to the Bok squad next week, but then why would you release him to play in a grinding forward-oriented clash against the Bulls? He will be needed at some point this year and in 2011, as even when Brüssow is fit, the Boks need two fetchers in their squad.

The decision to retain Kankowski is perplexing, as like Wynand Oliver and Zane Kirchner he’s yet to make the step up at Test level. The Bok selectors are blowing an opportunity to start Louw, Smith and Burger as a combination. They’re refusing to try something new. They’d rather favour a tried and tested, but ultimately limited, trio. That may work to a degree, but it won’t win matches.

And if they believe that combination can win matches, where is the planning beyond the Tri-Nations, a tournament that South Africa can no longer win? They need to give Louw opportunities now and experiment with a new No 8 in Burger. Kankowski is not good enough and Spies’s defensive game is lacking.

The Bok management should try something new on this home leg. Playing the same old combinations will ensure they get even less out of this Tri-Nations tournament than they already have.

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