Heyneke Meyer has selected a starting XV that can overpower and out-manoeuvre England at Twickenham, writes JON CARDINELLI in London.
Changes needed to be made. The Boks’ recent performance against Ireland in Dublin lacked attitude and precision. There needed to be consequences for that performance, especially in the buildup to a tour-defining clash against England at Twickenham.
On Wednesday, Meyer said many of his selections for the Test against England had been made before the tour commenced. He said there were no individual scapegoats following the loss to Ireland, and that the collective was at fault.
However, it cannot be a coincidence that the likes of Schalk Burger, Adriaan Strauss and JP Pietersen will lend the Boks precisely what they were lacking in the contest against Ireland.
Meyer is right to speak about the trio’s experience, and how it will be valuable when the Boks front England in front of 80,000-plus at Twickenham. But more than that will be the grunt Burger supplies in the battle in the trenches, the impetus Strauss lends to the set pieces, and the all-round aggression Pietersen provides in the wider channels.
I wrote on Monday that Meyer must introduce players who can make a physical difference from the outset. Burger has started just one Test this season, but the Boks desperately need his skills for a clash of this nature. The Boks are currently without first-choice flankers Francois Louw and Willem Alberts, and so there’s no point in limiting Burger to a bench role.
The change at scrumhalf is as expected. Meyer may well have favoured the more experienced Francois Hougaard for this fixture rather than hand Cobus Reinach his first Test start. I said as much on Monday, even though I had witnessed Hougaard’s incompetence at the Aviva Stadium first hand. I felt that Hougaard and Reinach possessed similar strengths, and that in the end, experience should determine who starts.
But having watched Hougaard closely in training this week, I can see why he's not being backed for the Twickenham clash. Hougaard has continued to make handling errors in training, and generally appears to be lacking confidence. Starting Reinach, whose work rate and attitude at training has been top drawer, may be the best thing for the Boks.
I’m surprised Meyer is not backing Handré Pollard at No 10. I can understand Meyer’s reasoning, though, given the players selected at scrumhalf and inside centre are very inexperienced.
Pat Lambie is the more seasoned player, and plays alongside Reinach at the Sharks. Meyer also wants at least one experienced player in the No 9-10-12 combination (Jan Serfontein is a No 12, not a 13 as the number on his back suggests).
Personally, I would have liked to see how Pollard fared against England in the cauldron that is Twickenham. It would have been a great opportunity for the 20-year-old just a year out from the World Cup.
That said, I don’t believe the selection at flyhalf for this Saturday’s clash will be as significant as the selections in the Bok pack. Lambie's kicking game will be under scrutiny, but the match will be won and lost up front.
The backing of Burger to start is huge. This selection has increased the Boks’ chances of dominating the gainline battle and making inroads into the suspect England defence.
Playing from that sort of platform, Lambie, and Pollard when he is introduced later in the second half, should thrive.
Photo: Patrick Bolger/Getty Images