Acid test for Bok midfield

Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel will face a sterner and ultimately more significant test of their abilities when they front the Wallabies in Brisbane. JON CARDINELLI reports.

Last week, Heyneke Meyer said he was excited to see how De Allende and Kriel would go in midfield. The Springbok coach spoke of the players' attacking strengths, and hinted that this combination would enjoy an extended opportunity to develop in the Rugby Championship.

Meyer's prediction came to pass, with De Allende and Kriel producing commanding attacking performances against the World XV at Newlands. The pair has since travelled with the 31-man squad to Brisbane to prepare for the opening game of the Rugby Championship.

Meyer needs to stick with this combination for the Test against the Wallabies. It's a selection that will ensure some continuity. More importantly, it will provide an answer to the World Cup question: are these youngsters ready to front some of the best players in Test rugby?

The World XV were never going to push the Boks close. The team was comprised mainly of players who won't be at the World Cup later this year. They hadn't spent much time together in the buildup to the game, and it came as no surprise that they failed to produce much in the way of a structured attack or defence.

The strong performance against the World XV will have given De Allende and Kriel confidence, but they should know that the Test against the Wallabies will be very different. For starters, the Boks' midfield defence will be under greater scrutiny.

De Allende made some big defensive plays for the Stormers during the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament. Despite his size, Kriel showed an appetite for the big hits when playing for the Bulls. Neither player will shy away from contact this Saturday.

However, it will be interesting to see how they cope with the Wallabies' blend of guile and power out wide. Tevita Kuridrani and Israel Folau are but two Wallabies backs who will target Kriel's channel on attack.

Coaches often speak about outside centre as the most important position in the defensive line. Kriel has the speed and the vision to be a success, but what Meyer and company will be looking for this Saturday is good decision-making and leadership.

The Boks need De Allende and Kriel to pass the defensive test. If the pair succeeds, the Boks' chances of winning in Brisbane and winning the Rugby Championship will receive a boost. More importantly, it will show Meyer that he has more midfield options in the lead-up to the World Cup.

Jean de Villiers is the favourite to play outside centre at the global tournament. However, as the Bok captain stated himself in the wake of the World XV clash, there is some way to go before he is fully fit. The Boks need to plan for a scenario in which De Villiers doesn't make it back.

Meyer will also hope Frans Steyn recovers from a chest injury and that Jaque Fourie returns to peak fitness before the World Cup commences this September. Ideally, the Boks would want all three of these decorated veterans in that final squad of 31.

Of course, there's a chance that those players won't recover in time. And even if they do, there's a chance that injury will strike at the World Cup itself. It's important that De Allende and Kriel make a strong statement over the next couple of games, and prove they can add value in the big matches.

Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli