Cape Town – Is history going to awkwardly
repeat itself when the Springboks tackle Scotland in the final Test of the June
internationals in Port Elizabeth on Saturday?
It is a question well worth asking because
South Africa – minus Francois Louw, as they will be again – were outwitted at
the breakdown when the unsung Scots last visited our soil in 2013 and were much
better value in their 30-17 defeat at Mbombela Stadium than the scoreboard
The visitors had led by 11 points at one
stage and the Boks only really put the game to bed with the last move of the match,
substitute Jan Serfontein’s converted try giving the eventual margin of triumph
a gloss it didn’t deserve.
It was broadly acknowledged by senior Bok
personnel afterwards that they had been run so close largely because of the
Scots’ superior tenacity and cunning in the battle on the deck.
Bath-based Louw, the Boks’ regular No 6
flank, had been released from that particular fixture to get married, and it
was certainly one reason the overwhelming favourites laboured in that
A year later, and Louw will ominously be an
absentee against these opponents again, this time because the game falls
outside the agreed window – in New Zealand and Australia, Super Rugby matches
resume next weekend — and the Boks have had to release seven squad members who
are attached to either French or English clubs.
It will inevitably bring back under the
critical microscope coach Heyneke Meyer’s selection disaffection with Cheetahs
open-side dynamo Heinrich Brussow, who earned a spot in an enlarged training
squad ahead of the June internationals but then didn’t crack the slightly more
condensed party for the games themselves.
Brussow still has a firm fan club,
especially given lingering memories of his epic performances against the All
Blacks in the 2009 Tri-Nations-winning season.
Instead it looks as though one of Marcell
Coetzee or the versatile Schalk Burger will be asked to start at No 6 in the
Friendly City, even if neither is a true specialist as a scavenger.
Siya Kolisi of the Stormers is also a
consideration for the berth, although he has mostly been nursing lingering
niggles this season and not produced nearly the calibre of rugby he did in 2013.
Coetzee was in the starting loose trio that
experienced a “difficult” day against Scotland last June, along with rookie
Arno Botha (he was forced off early with damaged knee ligaments) and Pierre
Kolisi hastily took the place of Botha and
played impressively, although more in a ball-carrying and tackling role than
for stealing possession at the breakdown, where the Scots ruled the roost.
Sharks stalwart Coetzee has looked a more
rounded player in the No 6 jersey in their big push for Super Rugby honours
this year, and clearly worked hard to become a better poacher; the
23-year-old’s range of other attributes is hardly in doubt.
He ought to be hungry for game-time after a
few idle weeks, although he did return from a shoulder injury to play the
late-May derby against the Stormers at Kings Park, where the Sharks suffered a
damaging last-gasp defeat.
A potential complication for the Boks is
that first-choice hooker Bismarck du Plessis is among several key players well
overdue for a week off; he had to put in another exhausting shift in the
dramatic 31-30 victory over Wales at Nelspruit.
He came off 14 minutes before the end, to
be replaced by Schalk Brits, although the mobile Saracens star is now among the
ineligible players for the Scotland game.
At least the experienced Adriaan Strauss is
available again after rare suspension and been a welcome infusion to the now more
lightweight squad – the Cheetahs captain may even be fast-tracked to a start as
he knows Bok systems so well after 33 caps for the cause and reputation as a
world-class player in his own right.
But if Du Plessis is either rested
altogether or curtailed to the bench in PE, an inconvenience is that it robs
the Boks of another muscular, highly alert factor in ball-pinching …
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing