Sikhumbuzo Notshe will play a similar role to that of the injured Warren Whiteley when the Springboks face the Wallabies’ breakdown bandits on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports from Port Elizabeth.
Whiteley, who started at No 8 in the first four Tests of the Boks’ Rugby Championship campaign, has been ruled out of the game against the Wallabies due to a groin injury. On Thursday, Erasmus said that the former Bok captain should be fit enough to face the All Blacks next week in Pretoria.
Duane Vermeulen is unavailable for the current tournament due to club commitments in Japan. Francois Louw – a player who started at No 8 against the All Blacks in Cape Town last year and is highly rated by Erasmus as a No 8 option – has returned to Bath and won’t feature again for the Boks until the end-of-year tour.
The upshot is that Notshe, who has played all three loose-forward positions for the Stormers in recent years, will make his first start for the Boks at No 8. When asked by SARugbymag.co.za if Notshe could fill the gap left by Whiteley, Erasmus suggested the answer is both yes and no.
‘Warren has a lot of experience and has played a very important role with regard to our lineout calling system,’ Erasmus began, referring to Whiteley’s leadership and management skills as well as his individual prowess at the back of the set piece.
‘They are similar players, though, in terms of how they play with ball in hand. Perhaps that comes from the fact that they both have sevens backgrounds.’
It would have been interesting to see whom Erasmus would have backed to start in the back row if Vermeulen and Louw were available. The Wallabies boast some of the finest players at the breakdown, and Vermeulen and Louw are known for an ability to slow and steal possession at the rucks.
The Boks underperformed at the breakdown in the recent Test against the Wallabies in Brisbane. On that occasion, Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Whiteley were backed to start.
The makeup of that combination was questioned, until those loosies played a huge role in securing a famous win over the All Blacks in Wellington.
Can a similar back row, albeit with less experience and lineout nous, bring the Boks success in Port Elizabeth? The Wallabies loose trio will include Ned Hanigan, Michael Hooper and David Pocock on Saturday.
‘Notshe is not really a player who fits into that openside role,’ said Erasmus. ‘He’s more of a link player and someone we will need to get to the rucks quickly to make the cleanout.
‘The Wallabies have three or four good stealers in their side. They are very good over the ball. We will have to be vigilant in this area.’
Prop Beast Mtawarira, who began his Test career around the same time as Pocock in 2008, echoed his coach’s sentiments about the challenge facing the Boks at the breakdowns.
‘They have a strong pack of forwards. I’ve been involved in many battles with the likes of Pocock in the past. I’m sure they will try to make it a mess [at the breakdown] on Saturday,’ Mtawarira said.
‘We know what their strengths are. It’s a matter of us pitching up from a physical point of view. We have to go into this game with a positive mindset, and then hope that we are rewarded.’
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