The incredible thing about the pack that Peter de Villiers has named for the show-down with New Zealand this weekend is the sheer amount of caps its combined members have accumulated.
Talk that the Boks are going to be bullied upfront actually amounts to very little, when considering that only Gürthro Steenkamp amongst the forwards has played in fewer than 40 tests. The starting 8 named by de Villiers has an aggregate of 392 caps. That’s an average of not quite 50.
John Smit leads the charge with 77 appearances for his country. Andrew Hore, his direct opposite, has pulled on the black jersey a scant 25 times. That’s about a third of what John has done. Greg Sommerville has way more experience than his opposite number Steenkamp (15), but on the other side, CJ van der Linde’s 50 caps stack up well against Tony Woodcock’s 42. In the second row, it’s not so much the individual appearances by Vic Matfield (77) and Bakkies Botha (48) that are so crucial; rather, it’s the number of times the pair have played together, a stat which Ali Williams and Brad Thorn cannot hope to macth.
It’s in the loose forwards, though, that the Boks should really have the upper hand in this test match. Burger, van Niekerk and Smith have made 132 appearances between them. The All Blacks have Rod So’oialo played out of position with two rookies in Jerome Kaino and Adam Thomsom. So’oialo will have the added burden of the All Black captaincy to worry about. Expect the Boks to play havoc against this ill-conceived and inexperienced combination.
Among the backs, it’s a slightly different story, with the All Blacks boasting more experience and more settled combinations than the Boks can claim to. Odwa Ndungane will be under a lot of pressure, playing in only his second test. His opposite number, Rudi Wulf, is also a newcomer to test rugby, though and it is a comfort that it will be 38-test veteran (and world’s best winger) Bryan Habana tasked with handling the dangerous Sitiveni Sivivatu on the other side.
Perhaps the insurance policy of almost-centurion Percy Montgomery and drop-kicking wünderkind Francois Steyn on the bench may well be just the thing the Boks need to secure a first New Zealand win in a decade? I can’t wait for kick-off.
15 Conrad Alcon Jantjes, 14 Odwa Nzuzo Ndungane, 13 Adrian Abraham Jacobs, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Gary Habana, 10 Andrew David James, 9 Enrico Ricardo Januarie, 8 Johann Christiaan van Niekerk, 7 Juan Hugo Smith, 6 Schalk Willem Petrus Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 John Philip Botha, 3 Christoffel Johannes van der Linde, 2 John William Smit (capt), 1 Gürthro Garth Steenkamp
16 Bismarck Wilhelm du Plessis, 17 Brian Vuyisile Mujait, 18 Andries Bekker, 19 Luke Asher Watson, 20 Johannes Haindly Conradie, 21 Francois Philippus Lodewyk Steyn, 22 Percival Colin Montgomery