JON CARDINELLI says the Springboks have missed an opportunity to improve their scrum by picking a host of second and third-choice forwards for the away leg of the Tri-Nations.
Dean Greyling, John Smit and Werner Kruger packed down for the first time in Friday’s training session at Ravensmead. Because of Johann Muller’s hamstring niggle, Alistair Hargreaves partnered Flip van der Merwe in the second row, while Deon Stegmann, Danie Rossouw and Ashley Johnson packed as the loose trio.
It would appear that this is the forward combination that will front Australia and the All Blacks in the first two Tri-Nations matches, and if this is the case, then there is good reason to be concerned. Not one combination has played together before, and on Friday, it showed. They battled for synergy during the session with the scrum machine, and will be hard pressed to find some collective form in the next two weeks.
Some might say that it doesn’t matter if the Boks fire at the scrum, as in a World Cup year the Tri-Nations tournament is not a priority. Indeed coach Peter de Villiers and the Bok selectors have intimated as much by picking a few players that won’t even go to the World Cup for the tour to Australasia. In doing so they’ve missed a chance to gather some momentum before the global tournament and address the flagging form of several key forwards.
At the beginning of the Super Rugby season, the Sharks’ scrum was touted as the best in South Africa. As the season progressed, the Sharks began to struggle, and not just when Smit was moved to prop.
Their best front-row combination of Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and Jannie du Plessis were hammered by the All Black-stacked Crusaders in the play-off match in Nelson, but it was by no means a failure in isolation. Those players, Bismarck included, had been battling prior to that fixture.
These players will play an important role in South Africa’s World Cup campaign, but they need to regain some form before going to that tournament. There will be no warm-up games as there were in 2007, and thus no opportunities to build momentum in the period between competitions.
The squad that will go to the World Cup will boast a number of experienced combinations. There are various systems and formulas they will rely on to bring them success, but at the moment, there is still a question mark over the scrum.
The inexperienced combination that travels to Australasia is unlikely to succeed at this set-piece, and even if they do, it won’t mean much in the context of the World Cup. Greyling, Kruger and CJ van der Linde won’t make the World Cup cut, and the Bok scrum will have to start from scratch when De Villiers brings back his first-choice players.
De Villiers may well recall the likes of Mtawarira and the Du Plessis brothers for the home leg of the Tri-Nations, as well as some other familiar faces in the second row and loose trio. This would allow the first-choice combination to address their shortcomings and possibly gather some form.
The worst case scenario is that we may have to wait until 11 September before we see a full-strength Bok pack in action. While Wales’ scrum may not be as feared as that of the All Blacks, they may fancy themselves against a Bok eight lacking in synergy and match practice.
It’s not a given that the Boks will make it as far as a World Cup semi-final showdown against the All Blacks, but they should be planning for the possibility. And if they make it that far, you’d like to believe that they would have an answer at scrum-time and not succumb as the Sharks did to the Crusaders three weeks ago.