JON CARDINELLI says the Springboks don’t have the quality or synergy in the back row to trouble the Wallabies this weekend.
It was hoped that Heinrich Brüssow would overcome an injury in time to take his place in the back row, but in the end the selectors have (wisely) opted not to push him when he’s clearly not ready. The upshot is that the Boks will persist with plans to field a mix-and-match pack, with the most notable weakness in the loose-forward combination.
While the dirt-trackers tour Australasia, the first-choice players are in camp in Rustenburg conditioning themselves for the World Cup. Schalk Burger and Juan Smith are still recovering from injuries, while other loose forwards that have been named on the official injury list include Willem Alberts, Pierre Spies, Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw. Including Brüssow, as many as seven top loose forwards are unavailable for Saturday’s game, but that doesn’t mean that De Villiers has picked the best available back row.
Jean Deysel is on the bench while Ryan Kankowski hasn’t made the match 22. By omitting these players, De Villiers is ignoring the physical impact of Deysel and the lineout prowess of Kankowski. With regards to the latter discipline, neither Deon Stegmann nor Ashley Johnson are realistic options because of their height, and so the Boks will go into a Test where they’re striving for set-piece dominance with only three lineout jumpers.
De Villiers will feel that the selection of Stegmann is justified, and that the Boks need to counter Wallabies openside David Pocock. Indeed in the four Tests he’s started against the Boks, Pocock has had a telling impact.
He was at the centre of the Wallabies’ win in Brisbane in 2009, South Africa’s only defeat in that Tri-Nations tournament. The Wallabies won two out of three against the Boks in 2010, and even in the game they lost at Loftus, they had the edge at the breakdown. Whether he was slowing the ball down and allowing his defence to realign or manufacturing a turnover, Pocock was the man that hurt the South Africans most.
Stegmann was a surprise selection for the 2010 tour to the home nations, as he had failed to play much Currie Cup rugby because of injury. His selection on this occasion is equally perplexing, as his form in the Super Rugby competition has been ordinary at best. He was also one of the most penalised opensiders in the tournament.
Johnson had his moments, but battled with his consistency. He could struggle to make an impact as a primary ball carrier at this level, and will need to cut down his error rate.
Danie Rossouw won’t let the Boks down. He’s a strong ball carrier and is the right type of player to have in a tight, forward-oriented contest. His lineout work is world-class, and his ball skills underrated. While he is an outstanding player that will definitely go to the World Cup, it’s debatable whether his class will come to the fore in a back row that lacks balance and experience.
It’s also strange that De Villiers has not included Deysel in the starting line-up for a game where the collisions are going to be crucial. The Wallabies dominated at the tackle point in all three Tests against the Boks in 2010, and if the Boks are going to have any chance on this occasion, they are going to have to win the battle of the collisions.
De Villiers has selected Deysel on the bench, but they need to have men like Deysel and Rossouw operating in tandem from the first whistle. When the game opens up in the final quarter and the Wallabies are less structured, that’s when you want somebody like Kankowski coming off the bench.
The Boks will target the Wallabies’ scrum, although it would be optimistic to predict success in this department considering the Boks will field new front-row and second-row combinations. They may also struggle to lay the platform at the lineout, and having fewer options at this set-piece will make it easier for the Wallabies to contest.
By contrast, Robbie Deans has picked a balanced back row, and his locks and front-rankers are also capable of weighing in with some powerful performances at the breakdowns and collisions.
De Villiers will argue that injuries have forced his hand, but the reality is that he could have been smarter with his selections. Johnson is going to struggle to live with the Aussies physically, and with his team-mates losing the collisions, Stegmann is not going to stand up to Pocock. Don’t be surprised if Deysel is introduced sooner rather than later.