Cape Town – The biggest goal for the Springboks in the 2022 Rugby Championship is to beat the Wallabies in Australia.
They haven’t done so in the last five matches Down Under, with their last triumph coming in Brisbane in 2013, where they pulled off a stunning 38-12 victory.
So, Bok coach Jacques Nienaber would want to pick his strongest possible squad for the two-Test trip east, but I don’t think he did that when the 34-man group was announced on Monday.
The most contentious picks were at hooker – or rather, the lack of back-up following the knee injury to Bongi Mbonambi, which will keep him out of action for four weeks – and among the loose forwards, where Nienaber is taking unnecessary risks.
Nienaber said that Deon Fourie will cover Malcolm Marx and Joseph Dweba. Now Fourie – who will turn 36 next month – is an unrelenting character who will give it his all if required, but he should not be put in such a difficult situation in the national team.
Fourie is honest enough to admit that his lineout-throwing problems in his previous life as a hooker at the Stormers and Western Province was part of the reason he eventually morphed into an openside flank, where he was outstanding for the Cape side in their march to the United Rugby Championship title earlier this year.
He didn’t feature at hooker for the Stormers even when there was an injury crisis in that position, with the likes of youngsters such as JJ Kotze and André-Hugo Venter called upon by coach John Dobson.
So, why is Fourie suddenly being considered as a back-up hooker for Test rugby?
The easiest and best solution would have been to select Johan Grobbelaar, who was excellent for the Bulls in the URC, whether it was with his lineout-throwing, scrumming and general play.
Dweba had another tough outing against the All Blacks after battling against Wales as well, but he is a fine prospect and is worth persevering with, especially with Mbonambi out.
But if he or Marx were to sustain an injury just before the first Wallabies Test on August 27 in Adelaide, it would’ve made greater sense to have Grobbelaar on the bench instead of Fourie.
Nienaber spoke about how the 34-man squad was “in line with the standard travelling squad for the Rugby Cup”, so surely you would want three specialist hookers in that group?
The same goes for the scrumhalves, but the four picked for the Australian trip is a bit much. The Bok boss needs to make a call on which three halfbacks are the best between Faf de Klerk, Jaden Hendrikse, Herschel Jantjies and Cobus Reinach – and some may feel that Grant Williams was also unlucky to miss out.
If Nienaber really wanted Fourie in the travel party, then one of the scrumhalves should have been left out, and Grobbelaar should have been included as the third hooker.
There has also been an understandable outcry on social media about the group of loose forwards that were chosen, with Stormers star Evan Roos the major omission.
Nienaber said on Monday that “he would make changes to the squad for the two Tests against Argentina in Buenos Aires and Durban as he looks to give his expanded group of players a chance to prove themselves with an eye on the Rugby Cup”, but with the quest for victories in Australia, in-form players should have made the cut.
Stalwarts, Duane Vermeulen and Pieter-Steph du Toit were well off the mark against the All Blacks at Ellis Park, with both coming off injury layoffs.
Vermeulen in particular had a hard task as he hasn’t played rugby in two months following knee surgery, but was then expected to front up to a determined Kiwi side playing for the future of their coach, Ian Foster.
Jasper Wiese still has a lot to work on, but he at least is 100 percent fit and has operated at full tilt in every Test he’s played this year.
Kwagga Smith is also a solid option at No 8, and Roos is the promising youngster coming through alongside Elrigh Louw, who was selected.
So, a better plan would have been to keep Vermeulen in South Africa to train, and then play him in the two Argentina Tests.
Nienaber revealed that there will be a different squad used for those two games against Los Pumas, so hopefully URC stars such as Roos, Louw, Warrick Gelant and perhaps even Manie Libbok will get game-time.
Props: Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Frans Malherbe, Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane
Hookers: Joseph Dweba, Malcolm Marx
Locks: Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Salmaan Moerat
Loose forwards: Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (captain), Elrigh Louw, Kwagga Smith, Jasper Wiese, Duane Vermeulen
Utility forwards: Deon Fourie, Franco Mostert
Scrumhalves: Faf de Klerk, Jaden Hendrikse, Herschel Jantjies, Cobus Reinach
Flyhalves: Elton Jantjies, Handre Pollard
Midfielders: Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Andre Esterhuizen
Outside backs: Makazole Mapimpi, Willie le Roux, Canan Moodie, Warrick Gelant
Utility backs: Damian Willemse, Jesse Kriel, Frans Steyn