The Springboks’ hopes of playing a balanced brand of rugby at the World Cup will hinge on the availability of scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Duane Vermeulen and Du Preez haven’t played as much as a minute for the Boks in 2015. And yet both are expected to travel to the 2015 World Cup as Heyneke Meyer’s preferred No 8 and scrumhalf.
Word from the South African training camp is that Vermeulen is making good progress in his rehabilitation from a serious neck injury. Du Preez’s progress, however, has been slower than expected.
Initially, it was hoped that the Boks’ premier No 9 would trial that troublesome knee in the two fixtures against Argentina. Those games have come and gone, and even now, some three days before the announcement of the 31-man World Cup squad, Du Preez is not right. The scrumhalf did not take full part in Monday’s training session, and his knee injury remains a concern.
The Boks need the 2007 World Cup-winner to bounce back, and sooner rather than later. The execution of their game plan, and ultimately their chances of winning the 2015 global tournament, may depend on Du Preez’s availability.
On Monday, a couple of the Bok coaches spoke to the media about the team’s improvements over the past few weeks. Defence coach John MacFarland said he was pleased with the aggression and accuracy shown in the most recent Test in Buenos Aires. He added that the Boks were looking to strike the right balance between defence and attack.
The return of Du Preez would boost those ambitions. The Boks’ kicking game has suffered in the absence of Du Preez, one of the best tactical kickers in the game. Du Preez also doesn’t get enough credit for the speed and quality of his service from the base, or his vision on attack. He produced some outstanding attacking showings at the 2007 World Cup. When he has been fit and available (in 2013 and 2014), he has made a difference to the Boks' attack.
Can the Boks play a balanced game without Du Preez at No 9? Unfortunately, they don't have another scrumhalf in their squad that can switch between the tactical and running game.
Ruan Pienaar has been outstanding for Irish club Ulster in recent seasons, and looks a safe tactical bet in northern hemisphere conditions. However, Pienaar is no longer the attacking player he was in 2009, and no longer troubles opposition defences with a dart from the base.
On the other end of the spectrum is Cobus Reinach, a player with all the natural attacking instinct in the world, and a terrific turn of pace. Pinpoint kicking in a more tactical game, though, is not Reinach’s forte.
In the 2015 Super Rugby tournament, Rudy Paige produced some impressive tactical-kicking performances for the Vodacom Blue Bulls. Paige may yet leapfrog Reinach to secure a place in the group of 31. What will be a concern is Paige’s lack of Test experience.
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