Willem Alberts should come straight into the Springboks’ starting lineup to add some much-needed grunt up front, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
An injury to Lood de Jager has suddenly seen Alberts called out of the international wilderness to come back into the Bok frame. Yet, one has to wonder, why was Alberts never in the Bok reckoning to begin with?
When Allister Coetzee was finally unveiled as the new Bok coach in April, he made it clear that he still had the option of including as many overseas-based players as he saw fit, but also intimated that he would opt to limit such selections.
In his first Test squad ahead of the June series, Coetzee picked just three overseas-based Boks: Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw and Steven Kitshoff. The former two were included for their leadership and experience, while the latter was rewarded for his form in France and in order to add much-needed depth at loosehead prop.
An injury to Pat Lambie then brought about a recall for Morné Steyn, while overseas-based Bryan Habana, Johan Goosen and Francois Hougaard were all included in the Rugby Championship squad.
Upon reflection, it does seem to have served as somewhat of a deviation from the initial indication to suggest that locally based players would receive preference to those based abroad, but few can quibble with the inclusion of Alberts.
It’s been clear to see during the June series against Ireland and at the start of the Rugby Championship that the Boks are sorely lacking physicality and firepower in the forward pack.
In the front row, for whatever set-piece strengths Adriaan Strauss possesses, he doesn’t boast the same sort of formidable physicality of France-based Bismarck du Plessis, who could provide gainline ascendancy on attack and defence.
And in the absence of injured first-choice tighthead props such as Frans Malherbe and Julian Redelinghuys, surely the experience and competitive spirit of Jannie du Plessis would have added more to the Bok cause than the inclusion of Lourens Adriaanse?
The loss of Vermeulen to a knee injury ahead of the Rugby Championship also didn’t precipitate the necessary reaction. For all Warren Whiteley offers as a defender and linking eighthman, he is a completely different No 8 to Vermeulen, and the back row lacks real balance when he starts alongside Oupa Mohoje and Francois Louw.
On Saturday, the Boks were crying out for a direct, physical ball-carrier and defender such as Alberts or Du Plessis. Both are 32 years old, and aren’t going to be around for the next World Cup, but at the start of a new era when winning should really be the only priority, these are the type of players that could have made key contributions to achieving just that.
Alberts was only set to join the Boks on Tuesday after his flight Down Under from France, and that may well compromise his readiness to start on Saturday, but the Boks desperately need a bruiser such as the former Sharks hardman to make an immediate impact.
So far this season, the Boks have lacked the sort of physicality up front and on defence to win Test matches the good old-fashioned way without the ball, but they haven’t had the experience or cohesion in the backline to win with a running game.
It’s one of the reasons why players such as Du Plessis and Alberts shouldn’t have been overlooked so quickly. If Coetzee is going to pick overseas-based players (as he’s increasingly indicated he’s willing to do), these are the players you’d want to go to 'war' with.
And to digress for a moment, there has also been plenty of talk overseas to suggest that Pierre Spies is playing with a new lease of life in France, while Gio Aplon continues to make an impact for Grenoble. Furthermore, in the absence of clear-cut in-form options at centre, why is the physical Frans Steyn still deemed surplus to requirements?
It simply raises the question of how many Boks could be making valuable contributions to a desperate national squad, but are simply out of sight and out of mind? One only really has to look at recent highlight videos (Bordeaux vs Montpellier) from France (Gio Aplon’s solo try) to get a sense of how many South African players continue to perform abroad.
At the end of the day, the reality of the player drain means that the depth in South African rugby is no longer what it used to be. It requires an appreciation for who is making the biggest and best impact overseas, and who could still be contributing to a desperate Bok cause. Alberts is undoubtedly one of those men.
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