SA blessed with talented twos
7 May 2012
MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day column, says no Test coach has as many selection options at hooker as Heyneke Meyer.
Bismarck du Plessis, at his peak, has no equal as an international hooker, but the form hooker in SA is Cheetahs captain Adriaan Strauss.
He has been colossal all season and against the Force at the weekend was again the best of the Cheetahs’ forwards.
Du Plessis was imposing for the Sharks against the Highlanders and Chiliboy Ralepelle’s game is of Test standard. Then there’s Craig Burden, who has excelled with limited opportunity at the Sharks. Tiaan Liebenberg has been effective and impressive for the Stormers, and don’t forget that critics in the northern hemisphere consider Schalk Brits the best hooker in Europe.
We always rave about the quality in depth among South African loose forwards, but there is not a Test coach with as many selection options at hooker. It is a selection headache Bok coach Heyneke Meyer won’t mind as he builds a squad of 30 capable of winning consistently in the next four years.
Du Plessis must still be the favourite to start against England in June’s three-Test series, but there is no guarantee, simply because of the form of so many others.
There has been talk that Strauss is a consideration as a captain, but the quality of hookers could count against him leading the Boks.
The captain ideally should never have his starting place questioned and Strauss, however impressive in the past two seasons, isn’t at the level where he could claim such a luxury.
It is as a player, though, that Strauss has demanded national squad recognition. He has been the most consistent of all the hookers and the most disciplined in all facets.
It is his regard for the basics that is a stand-out and Meyer has not been shy in publicly singling out Strauss when talking of players who have earned the right to be spoken of as national squad prospects.
Meyer has said that injuries have caused a rethink in his initial squad selection and that his match 22 for the first Test against England continues to change because of the attrition rate in this year’s Super Rugby.
When chatting to Meyer, you get a sense that he knows exactly who he believes is capable of playing Test rugby in June, and who he feels needs to be nurtured, and the challenge to established internationals like Du Plessis is to make current form a more compelling selection case than historical form.
I expect Du Plessis to respond positively to the challenge of Strauss and Ralepelle, and that can only be a good thing for the Sharks and the Boks.
It’s a healthy situation for South African rugby when a player considered the world’s best in his position is under pressure because of the form of others in that position.
The best players know when to time their run for national selection and in the next three weeks you are likely to see more of the familiar faces put in commanding performances.
Du Plessis will lead the charge and hopefully Stormers lock Andries Bekker will be as inspirational.
Juan Smith, Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen’s unavailability because of injury creates opportunity among the loose forwards, which only emphasises why the likes of the experienced Du Plessis and Bekker have to be playing well in June.
Cheetahs flyhalf Johan Goosen’s injury has added to the national value of Sharks utility back Pat Lambie, who produced a timely reminder of his class in scoring all 28 points in the win against the Highlanders.
Meyer rates Lambie more a Test fullback who is capable at flyhalf, even if this is not a view necessarily shared by Sharks coach John Plumtree.
Lambie was the South African highlight of the weekend and Test incumbent Morne Steyn wasn’t far behind him in ensuring the Bulls won against the Rebels in Melbourne.
As with the hooker situation, it’s looking healthy at flyhalf.
The midfield possibilities haven’t been as convincing in Super Rugby but experienced internationals Frans Steyn and Jean de Villiers, as a combination, provide enough comfort on attack and in defence.
The Bulls and Stormers have been the dominant South African teams this season and this is likely to be acknowledged with national call-ups, which isn’t ideal for their respective Super Rugby play-off challenge.