Bryan Habana and Tonderai Chavhanga are the most feared finishers in the S14. Now for the world…
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers’ judgment has proven reassuringly accurate thus far.
Chris Hewitt writes for Sports Illustrated that he opted to retain John Smit as captain, recognised the importance of the continued involvement in the squad of Victor Matfield, and it is reliably learnt is seriously considering roping in Percy Montgomery to tutor the next generation of Bok backline stars coming through.
Even his statement that three South African teams would make the semifinals, mocked by many, isn’t proving the most unconsidered utterance.
Both the Sharks and the Stormers look set for the semis, whilst De Villiers could be forgiven for underestimating the destructive effect Frans Ludeke would bring to the Bulls.
It is therefore not hard to believe the whispers that De Villiers’ first-choice back three is shaping up as Conrad Jantjes at fullback, with Bryan Habana and Tonderai Chavhanga on either wing.
Allied to his attacking approach, the trio would form one of the most dangerous and unpredictable back threes in world rugby. The crucial ingredient is pace, and in Habana and Chavhanga, the Boks will field the quickest men in the game.
Habana’s performance against the Blues was a well-timed reminder of his pedigree. The diving catch, burst down the wing and perfectly timed inside pass that led to Derick Kuun’s try was pure genius. His work rate was noticeably up, and he looked relentlessly threatening.
Habana now needs to maintain the hunger. It is sure to have filtered through to him that De Villiers is not impressed with past achievements. There will be no comfort zones in his side.
Even more impressive has been Chavhanga. He has improved every game, and quiet early showings have snowballed into destructive dominance. He was brilliant against the Force, very effective against the Blues, Chiefs and Reds. His 50m burst against the Crusaders was the Cape side’s highlight in their muted attacking effort that evening.
His great challenge will be to stay fit. His career has been decimated by injury, and hopefully the recurrent hamstring problems have now been addressed through training adjustments.
Jantjes, too, will have to prove his long-term fitness. If he can, though, his keen positional sense, high-ball solidity, counter-attacking flair and booming boot make him the natural choice to succeed Monty.
Seven years after his international debut, he now provides enough solidity and experience whilst remaining an attacking weapon.
World Cup-stand out JP Pietersen provides perfect cover. He plays all three positions, and as Jantjes, Habana and Chavhanga are unlikely to all remain uninjured throughout the year, is likely to earn his fair share of caps.
De Villiers has shown the courage to commit to an attacking game. He has shown the persistence to endure the contract chaos that has subsequently endured.
All that’s left now is for him to back his instincts and pick the players with the ability to make the Boks synonymous with brilliant backs, and not just a brutish pack.
What are the odds that he won’t?
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