The Springboks require a change in personnel and attitude ahead of their tour-defining clash against England, writes JON CARDINELLI in London.
Harsh words have been spoken in the wake of the nightmare performance at the Aviva Stadium. And yet, one gets the feeling that rousing words are insufficient. Somebody needs to take action if the Boks are to bounce back.
Heyneke Meyer needs to send a message that mediocrity will not be tolerated. And what better way to convey the sentiment than to wield the axe?
Meyer must introduce players who can make a physical difference from the outset. Schalk Burger, Adriaan Strauss and JP Pietersen are among the most abrasive and bloody-minded competitors in Test rugby. These are the hatchet men Meyer must look to for the brutal assignment at Twickenham.
Backing the same starting combination that fronted Ireland will only perpetuate the mediocrity. Some have lamented the handling mistakes made by the Boks, but in many ways, Ireland exposed a few weaknesses in the Boks' game plan and makeup.
South Africa missed Willem Alberts in the clash at the Aviva Stadium. In northern hemisphere conditions, there is no better loose trio in the world than Francois Louw, Alberts and Duane Vermeulen. This combination has the physical clout as well as the breakdown nous to hurt their counterparts.
Teboho Mohoje has proved to be an inadequate substitute for Alberts. Earlier this season, I wrote that Mohoje is yet to reach his potential, and that he has been pushed too far too soon.
His natural running gifts were amplified in the games against Australia and New Zealand, matches that were staged in South Africa. But in the north where the fields are wet and slow, and gainline ascendancy is paramount, Mohoje’s physical weaknesses have been exposed.
What is Meyer waiting for? In future, Burger may play an influential role as an impact player, coming off the bench to replace one of Louw, Alberts, Vermeulen or even Marcell Coetzee. Presently, the Boks don’t have Alberts or Louw in tow, and are in desperate need of a blindside with Burger’s experience and ability to dominate contact.
The stint in Japan has been good for Pietersen, as he looks hungrier than ever. The Boks would do well to utilise his combative strengths from the get-go.
Cornal Hendricks has been impressive in his rookie season, but like Mohoje lacks the physical presence to add value in a combative occasion at Twickenham. The romantics will remember the ease with which he scored against New Zealand in Wellington, while the pragmatists will point to his limp defensive effort against the same side in Johannesburg.
In that latter fixture, Hendricks was brushed aside by his larger and more aggressive opponent, Julian Savea. No New Zealander, or Englishman for that matter, will bounce a defender as physical and experienced as Pietersen. He may not be as evasive as Hendricks, but he has what it takes to excel in these conditions.
The mystery of Bismarck du Plessis deepens. When he's in form, he’s easily the best hooker in South Africa and the world, and potentially the best player on the planet. Right now, something just isn't right, and I wonder if it has anything to do with amount of rugby he's played this year. As the stats confirm, Du Plessis, and several other Sharks players, including his brother Jannie, were overplayed in the Super Rugby tournament.
Strauss is the man to get the job done in London. The Boks’ breakdown effort was boosted when he and Burger were deployed in the second half of the Dublin clash. He is currently playing with more purpose and precision than Du Plessis.
The toughest call Meyer may have to make is to stick with Francois Hougaard at No 9. Hougaard was the worst of a bad bunch at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday, and showed why Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar will be the first- and second-choice scrumhalves at the 2015 World Cup. However, when you consider the present tour in isolation, Meyer has no option but to back Hougaard.
Cobus Reinach possesses similar attacking strengths, and similar tactical weaknesses. What separates the Sharks scrumhalf and Hougaard is experience. And experience will count a great deal when the Boks face a determined England at their home ground.
The players will have plenty to prove this week, but so too will Meyer. He needs to select a team that will give the Boks the best chance of winning at Twickenham. That may involve making some bold and unpopular selections.
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