JON CARDINELLI says Willem Alberts’ strong performance against the Stormers bodes well for the three-Test series against England.
Alberts’ detractors will be snorting in disbelief. One dominant showing and he’s suddenly back, suddenly the answer to Heyneke Meyer’s blindside quandary? So much for a measured evaluation.
It’s an understandable reaction. Alberts has struggled with injuries over the past year, and when he has actually played he hasn’t been as effective at the gainline as before. He made a terrific impact in the first half of the 2011 Super Rugby tournament, but battled for form in the months that followed.
That was until last Saturday. Backed by John Plumtree in the most important match of the Sharks’ season, Alberts turned in a powerful performance. The Sharks forwards manhandled their Stormers counterparts, and Alberts was particularly effective in that ball-carrying role on attack, and that momentum-stalling role on defence.
It was an important performance in a Springbok context. When two of the strongest teams in a conference clash, the national coach is always going to be watching. If you can make an impact in this contest, you can stake your claim for national selection. If you can make inroads into the best defence in the Super Rugby competition, if you can outmuscle the most physical team in South Africa, you can make a massive statement.
What will help Alberts’ cause is that there aren’t many blindside flankers available at present, at least not the type of No 7s that Meyer is looking for. Juan Smith, Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen are all sidelined with injuries while Danie Rossouw has also told Meyer he is not available.
Who else but Alberts fits the job description, at least in terms of what Meyer values in a blindside? He ticks the boxes of experience and size, as the latter lends itself to the dual role of ball-carrying and defending, not to mention providing an extra option in the lineout.
And as he showed this past Saturday, he is coming back into form. He will have one more opportunity to gather momentum before the England series as the Sharks play the Lions this Saturday. While this will be useful for a man coming back from injury, he’s already shown what he is capable of against the Stormers. That performance against the Stormers showed how he could be an important figure for the Boks in that England series.
The Boks are favourites to win that series and some South African pundits have been as bold as to predict a 3-0 result in favour of the hosts. To realise that goal, however, they will need to outplay England at the set pieces, breakdowns and collisions.
Some may be taking the English lightly, and for good reason. They are in a period of rebuilding and will be touring South Africa without several key forwards.
But Meyer has never been a coach to underestimate his opponents, and will pick his strongest available side for the coming series. He will select players that best fit his game plan, which is one of the primary reasons Fourie du Preez will start at scrumhalf and lead the team.
It is also for this reason that Alberts, in the absence of heavy hitters like Smith, Burger and Vermeulen, should be entrusted with the No 7 responsibilities.