It’s been a while since I hammered away an article for The Roar – must be the work thing, and if I had to be honest after a dismal Tri Nations campaign, a bit of ambivalence.
However, like the returning summer, the tide is turning on the back of some excellent rugby in the ITM and Currie Cup. I will leave the comment on the former to my Kiwi brethren.
First set of finals out the way at the business end of the Currie Cup and what a set of quality humdingers! North versus South, Coast versus Highveld, and in a sense Old versus New.
The first CC semi-final between the Bulls from Pretoria and Sharks from Durban was a physical affair with the end score of 16-12 in favour of the Sharks not telling the true tale of the how much the Sharks, with their persistent and clinical ball in hand approach, dominated the Bulls. The physical exchanges were ferocious with only the defence on both sides keeping the scores low.
True, the Bulls had a chance to snatch the result at the end but it would have been a travesty after being so outplayed for a majority of the match. The Western Province versus FS Cheetahs was nowhere near as tight with the ‘streep truie’ avenging a previous semi-final slip by demolishing the Cheetahs with a positive brand of running rugby and breakdown dominance.
In fact, in both games, the teams that won were winning the collision and possession stakes by considerable margins.
So this leaves us with a fitting end to the domestic season, a grand final in Durban between numbers one and two on the log. With it, the appearance of a change of the guard, a power shift.
The semis showcasing the current Bok approach (Bulls/Cheetahs) versus what has been dubbed the Kiwi approach (Sharks/WP). Regardless what you call it, it was good to see the domestic teams with the ability to adapt and maintain possesion get the results.
What remains to be seen is if the national setup is as flexible, which leads me on to the enlarged training squad for the EOYT:
Backs: Gio Aplon (Vodacom Western Province), Bjorn Basson (GWK Griquas), Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana (all Vodacom Western Province), Francois Hougaard (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Adrian Jacobs (The Sharks), Elton Jantjies (Xerox Lions), Ricky Januarie (Vodacom Western Province), Zane Kirchner (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Patrick Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo (both The Sharks), Wynand Olivier (Vodacom Blue Bulls), JP Pietersen (The Sharks), Morne Steyn (Vodacom Blue Bulls).
Forwards: Willem Alberts (The Sharks), Bakkies Botha (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Schalk Burger (Vodacom Western Province), Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis (both The Sharks), Dean Greyling (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Alistair Hargreaves (The Sharks), Ashley Johnson (Vodacom Free State Cheetahs), Ryan Kankowski (The Sharks), Werner Kruger, Victor Matfield (both Vodacom Blue Bulls), Gerhard Mostert, Tendai Mtawarira (both The Sharks), Coenie Oosthuizen (Vodacom Free State Cheetahs), Dewald Potgieter, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Danie Rossouw (all Vodacom Blue Bulls), Juan Smith, Adriaan Strauss (both Vodacom Free State Cheetahs), Pierre Spies, Deon Steggman (both Vodacom Blue Bulls), CJ van der Linde (Vodacom Free State Cheetahs), Flip van der Merwe (Vodacom Blue Bulls), Duane Vermeulen (Vodacom Western Province).
There is a lot of positive in this announcement and a few surprises.
In the forwards, it has been a long-time coming but Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts take a bow. With Spies having a shocker of a season I would take Vermeulen, Kankowski as my specialists 8’s with Rossouw and Alberts as my utility backups to cover Lock and Flank respectively.
Back to the front row, and I still think we are missing a world class tighthead or two so will have to do with CJ, Dr. du Plessis and Kruger.
John Smit’s injury paves the way for a return to Bismarck at hooker with Strauss and Chilliboy in that order making up the numbers. I like the look of Dean Greyling at loosehead and expect him and Beast to alternate.
Locks are a little contentious and I expect the established duo of Matfield and Botha to get most starts. The former needs less game time and the latter more but with Bekker still out it looks like the new generation hopes rest on Flip van de Merwe and he is more in the Botha mould.
Flanks are adequately covered with Burger in very fine form of late and totally over shadowing Juan Smith on the weekend. Surprised Francois Louw doesn’t get another chance but the door opens for Stegmann to prove himself depending on how the backrow is balanced. A Stegmann, Burger, Vermuelen combo could be very interesting.
In the backs there is a definite lean towards exciting youngsters, but despite the obvious talents of Lambie and Jantjies, I personally think they are still a little young and untested with the latter even yet to play Super rugby.
However as Morne Steyn appears as the only specialist flyhalf it would seem one or both are going to tour. Basson will definitely get a start this tour and incredibly is the only player not from the big five unions. With Habana finally finding some fettle it will leave fullback down to solid Kirchner or nippy Aplon with Mvovo the unlucky one depending on JP’s recent injury.
Even with Fourie out for the remainder of the year the centres look good if we stick with the WP combo of JdV and de Jongh. Unbelievable that AD Jacobs even made the squad without playing a 80 minutes for the Sharks the whole season. Olivier I have decided is going to be one of those players that excels at domestic/super rugby level but is never more than adequate internationally.
The other contentious area has to be scrumhalf, with Hougaard the curent incumbent the coach again shocks and disappoints with the selection of Ricky ‘KCF’ Januarie. Admittedly Ricky is playing better but for my mind is streets behind Duvenhage, Vermaak and even McLeod
Overall not a bad wider squad, let’s see if the mad Mexican can use it for its potential. His job depends on it.
So there you have it, a brief rundown of where South Africa is at.