Brüssow still a match-winner
8 Aug 2011
JON CARDINELLI says that Heinrich Brüssow needs game time before the World Cup and should be integrated into the Springbok starting side sooner rather than later.
I was against the selection of Brüssow for the recent tour of Australasia, as it was clear from the preceding training sessions in South Africa that he was still not fully fit. Fortunately, coach Peter de Villiers did not follow through with his plans to play a partially-fit Brüssow in either of those two matches.
You can understand why De Villiers would want to fast-track Brüssow. De Villiers has publicly stated that the Bok flanker ‘is the type of player that you build a game plan around’, and thus intimated that Brüssow will play a key role in the Boks’ World Cup campaign.
De Villiers, and South Africa, need Brüssow to be fit and battle-hardened by the time the Boks arrive in New Zealand.
Brüssow made his long-awaited return to competitive rugby last Saturday when he played 25 minutes for the Cheetahs against Western Province. It marked his first game since injuring his hamstring in May, and just his fourth game in 17 months. The Bok selectors would have watched Saturday’s match closely, and Brüssow’s cameo would have convinced them that he is indeed ready to reclaim the No 6 shirt.
The Cheetahs pack produced a better performance in the second half, and the tide was already beginning to turn when Brüssow was introduced in the 55th minute. For the remainder of the game, Brüssow exhibited the sharp decision-making and invaluable skills that made him one of the most valuable Test players in 2009. He effected several terrific breakdown steals, and earned his team kickable penalties that ultimately proved the difference in a tight finish.
The Currie Cup is significantly less intense than Test rugby, and the inexperience of the WP pack must be taken into account. But it was an encouraging performance from a player on the comeback trail. He showed that he still has what it takes to influence the outcome of a game, and it now remains to be seen if he can still do a similar job at highest level.
He missed the entire Test season in 2010, which in retrospect may not have been a bad thing. Apart from the Boks’ poor results, they battled to come to grips with the new law adaptations that favoured the attacking team. The All Blacks were the best when it came to adapting to these laws and that was reflected in the final Tri-Nations standings.
But the 2011 season has seen another shift in thinking in terms of the management at the breakdown. It may not be as one-sided as it was in 2009 where defensive teams held sway and men like Brüssow were prominent, but there is more of a contest.
Brüssow has shown himself to be an adaptable sort of player. He was particular good in the three Super Rugby games he did play, standing out in the Cheetahs’ win against the Waratahs in Sydney. The performance against WP in Bloemfontein also showed that he has that ability to influence a match. Providing he has emerged from Saturday’s clash injury-free, he must be used as much as possible in the next two Tri-Nations Tests.
The decision to pick Brüssow will be made easier given that the Boks have no other openside options in their squad. Schalk Burger is still recovering from a broken thumb sustained in the Super Rugby semi-finals, and won’t be considered for the Test in Durban. It is also unlikely that Burger will feature in Port Elizabeth.
While the time of the out-and-out fetcher has come and gone, every team still needs a player capable of making those big defensive plays. While Brüssow doesn’t have the stopping power of Burger, he is capable of making important turnovers. He is also capable of slowing down the opposition ball at the ruck and thus allowing his defence more time to realign.
The Boks will need an answer to the Wallabies’ David Pocock and the All Blacks’ Richie McCaw in the next two games. They won’t win the Tri-Nations, but they will get an opportunity to test themselves against quality players. For men like Brüssow, the opportunity will prove invaluable before the real battle commences at the World Cup.