John Smit has been reinstated as the starting hooker and captain for Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final against the Wallabies.
De Villiers started Bismarck du Plessis in the last pool match against Samoa, and it was rumoured that he would continue to play a bigger role in the knockout matches. But with Thursday’s team announcement, De Villiers stuck to the original script, favouring the man he made a promise to in 2008. Smit will start ahead of Du Plessis because De Villiers believes that the former is an indispensable leader.
Du Plessis has been named on the bench, but the Boks could certainly use his particular skill set in a game of this nature. More mobile and aggressive than Smit, he also possesses a strong breakdown game and is known to make the odd steal off the deck. Against the Wallabies, you’d want players of this ilk on the park from minute one.
It is also false to claim that the Boks don’t have the leadership outside of Smit to see them through a knockout match. Victor Matfield has captained the Bulls to three Super Rugby titles over the last four years, and has led the Boks admirably when Smit has been unavailable.
Matfield will play alongside Danie Rossouw in this match, as regular second row partner Bakkies Botha is unlikely to recover from injury. Beast Mtawarira is left out of the match 22, with Gurthro Steenkamp starting at loosehead prop. Other changes to the side that fronted Samoa see Jean de Villiers replacing the injured Frans Steyn at inside centre.
The Bok coach has also reverted to a traditional four-three split on the bench. There is still no sign of Johann Muller, and Willem Alberts will cover lock once again.
Francois Hougaard will cover several backline positions, and Butch James will give the team an alternative flyhalf option if Morne Steyn and the Boks’ one dimensional game plan doesn’t come off. Like the benching of Du Plessis, it’s a selection the coach will soon regret, as James’s skills are tailor made for this type of opposition.
The Boks have spoken about playing a forward-oriented game, but someone like Gio Aplon will lend them attacking impetus in the final quarter. Aplon has been used sparingly in this tournament, but will provide the Boks’ with a lively running option against what should be a tiring Aussie defence.
Again, the team may have been better served if Aplon was selected to start rather than ride the bench. Like Du Plessis and James, he has the ability to influence the outcome of a match and ideally these sort of players should be playing a greater role rather than a bit part in a do-or-die fixture.
Springboks – 15. Pat Lambie, 14. JP Pietersen, 13. Jaque Fourie, 12. Jean de Villiers, 11. Bryan Habana, 10. Morné Steyn, 9. Fourie du Preez, 8. Pierre Spies, 7. Schalk Burger, 6. Heinrich Brüssow, 5. Victor Matfield, 4. Danie Rossouw, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. John Smit (c), 1. Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Subs: 16. Bismarck du Plessis, 17. CJ van der Linde, 18. Willem Alberts, 19. Francois Louw, 20. Francois Hougaard, 21. Butch James, 22. Gio Aplon.