The Springbok pack will lay the platform for an inexperienced backline to fire in the match against the World XV at Newlands on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Remember when the ‘World XV’ arrived in Cape Town for a one-off match last year? Players told reporters that they intended to treat it as if it were a bonafide Test. However, the comments contradicted those of the straight-shooting Nick Mallett, the then coach of the composite side.
Mallett said that the media and public should temper their expectations. He pointed to the World XV players’ limited time together – just two field sessions – and said they would struggle to beat one of the best teams in Test rugby.
In the end, the Boks scored six tries to beat the World XV 47-13. That game lacked intensity and the atmosphere was very much that of a pre-season hit-out. That said, it was an exercise that benefited the Boks the buildup to the two-Test series against Wales.
This year’s match against the World XV should witness much of the same. The Boks should win by more than 20 points, but the result and margin of victory won’t be priorities. This game is all about the Boks and their long-term goals. Heyneke Meyer’s men need to build momentum in some areas, and experiment in others.
Significantly, the Boks’ first-choice tight-five combination will start this fixture. If that unit settles early, then the hosts should have the advantage at the set pieces. This will aid them in their quest to win the collisions and breakdowns, and subsequently in their drive for territory and points.
The World XV will attempt to play the game at a lively pace. They won’t want too many set pieces or to play the game in the trenches. They will know that they can’t compete against a side as well organised as the Boks in that type of contest.
What will encourage the World XV is the makeup of the Boks’ back row. The hosts are without two of their first-choice loose forwards, and Meyer has admitted that the absence of Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen will force the Boks to alter their tactics.
South Africa will field two flankers who play to the ball, as well as a No 8 who is better known for his exploits in space than his ability to dominate opponents at close quarters. These selections won’t cost the Boks the match, but they will compromise the hosts' quest for gainline dominance.
Meyer will be looking for answers as the World Cup draws closer. If fit, Francois Louw will travel to the World Cup as the Boks’ first-choice openside flank. Coetzee and Whiteley, however, need to prove they belong at this level and in this Bok game plan. To reiterate, the World XV won’t demand the best of these players, but both will be looking to make a statement before the start of the Test season proper.
The same is true of the Bok backs. Frans Steyn and Jaque Fourie are unavailable for this fixture, while Jean de Villiers is not ready to start. This presents an opportunity for youngsters like Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel. This midfield combination is likely to feature in the next game against Australia in Brisbane, so it’s important that they use the chance against the World XV to settle.
It will be interesting to see how those youngsters respond in pressure situations. Meyer has taken a chance in starting the pair alongside flyhalf Handré Pollard, a player who made his Vodacom Super Rugby and Test debuts as recently as last year. If the Bok pack doesn’t supply the backs with clean ball, and if the halfbacks are under pressure, that combination of De Allende and Kriel must show they can adapt.
The World XV will target the 12 and 13 channels on attack. The visitors will target Kriel in particular, as the 21-year-old will be playing his first international match. It will also mark Kriel's first start at No 13 this season, as he played fullback for much of the Bulls' Super Rugby campaign.
Meyer has backed Kriel in that position of responsibility, and believes the player will cope on defence. As for attack, Kriel should have ample chance to show what he can do, especially in the second half when the game opens up.
That second 40 should provide Meyer with several other opportunities. In terms of conventional player management, Pat Lambie and De Villiers will return to the playing field after lengthy injury lay-offs. As for experimentation, Vincent Koch will be given a chance at tighthead, Oupa Mohoje will be tried at lock, and Schalk Burger possibly at No 8.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Boks 5, World XV 0
In South Africa: Boks 4, World XV 0
KRIEL'S 2015 SUPER RUGBY STATS THAT MATTER
1,199 – Running metres (Rank 5)
38 – Defenders beaten (Rank 11)
12 – Clean breaks (Rank 16)
4 – Try assists (Rank 8)
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Oupa Mohoje, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jean de Villiers.
World XV – 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Lachlan Turner, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 David Smith, 10 Mike Harris, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Bakkies Botha (c), 4 Ali Williams, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Subs: 16 David Roumieu, 17 Alexandre Menini, 18 Petrus du Plessis, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Louis-Benoit Madaule, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Rudi Wulf.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Jason Jaftha (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)
Photo: Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images