Former Springbok prop Balie Swart says that South Africa are dangerously low on Test quality tighthead props. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
The Springbok scrum has been a cause for concern for much of the 2014 season and, despite a recent upturn in performances, there still remain question marks surrounding the depth at tighthead prop.
Marcel van der Merwe has performed admirably when called upon for the Boks but, with only four Test caps to his name, he remains a raw talent. There's no substitute for time in the middle. All of those caps, won from the bench, amount to just 60 minutes of Test match rugby.
With the World Cup fast approaching, Heyneke Meyer might benefit from affording Van der Merwe a starting role.
The need to win against the All Blacks will rule out this weekend's Test, but the matches against Italy and an ailing Wales on the end-of year tour could provide the perfect opportunity to give the young tighthead a proper run. What's more, it will likely come in the same conditions that they will experience during the World Cup next year.
'I think we are well covered at loosehead, but we're still a bit short at tighthead,' Swart told SARugbymag.co.za. 'Going into a World Cup year with only Jannie du Plessis as a Test level tighthead is a concern. We need to start developing players in every position, so that you have three or four backups who can come in if he gets injured. Right now we don't even have one [at tighthead prop].'
Du Plessis has come in for criticism this season, but he hasn't been helped by the dip in form of his Sharks teammates. Bismarck du Plessis has lost his place in the Springbok starting XV, while Tendai Mtawarira is still working his way back to form following an injury to his neck.
Mtawarira missed the conclusion of the Super Rugby season through injury, and it was during the play-off match against the Highlanders at Kings Park that the Sharks gave their most dominant display. Thomas du Toit started in the loosehead position that day.
'I'm a big believer of having a larger guy to anchor the scrum,' said Swart. 'I know that nowadays there is a need for players to be better in the loose, but the role of a front rower is to scrum well. The rest is just extra.
'Jannie du Plessis looked a better player in the Super Rugby when he had Thomas du Toit on the other side.
'I first noticed him when he was at Paarl Boys' High, but he has really come on this season and has benefitted from working with the Du Plessis brothers. He's certainly an exciting prospect and I'm sure he'll be a Springbok before long.'
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images