Pierre Spies may be the biggest beneficiary of coach Peter de Villiers’s decision on Tuesday not to alter his Springbok starting XV for the Test against Scotland at Murrayfield.
Rob Houwing writes for Sport 24 that the muscular Bulls No 8 did little in the tour opener against Wales to allay the ongoing belief in some circles that he struggles to truly produce his premier form in a Bok jersey.
Indeed, there were rumours after the heart-stopping 20-15 Cardiff win that South Africa might opt to field big utility bruiser Danie Rossouw in that position at Edinburgh, where conditions may be particularly heavy and frigid.
Such a move would, ironically, have reunited the loose trio – Rossouw, Schalk Burger and Juan Smith – which won the 2007 World Cup final against England.
But that was always a likelier, blunt-object combo for the somewhat more pragmatic Jake White era.
De Villiers favours a faster-paced, more adventurous game – at least in his often quaintly eccentric public utterances – and a return to the cumbersome Rossouw as a loose forward option would have sent out confusing signals about his philosophy.
As it is, some critics suspect the Boks remain in a quandary, both on and off the park, about what their true formula actually is or should be.
That said, the decision to stick with Spies appears a sensible one for the moment. At his best, he offers near-freakish, game-breaking explosiveness and footballing acumen to go with his power, but he will probably know as well as anyone that he could do with a big outing at Murrayfield to keep challengers at bay.
His work-rate and overall visibility in the first half of the Wales match did not appear to quite match that of either Burger or Smith, although ironically he was just starting to come to prominence after the break when he was substituted by Ryan Kankowski.
The Sharks player, in turn, wasn’t very special, either, although it can be difficult for a substitute to come on and suddenly change the complexion of a game with a snap of his fingers.
Kankowski retains a powerful lobby of support — not surprisingly, much of it Durban-based – and, in the event Spies does struggle against the Scots, hopefully Kankowski’s more out-and-out No 8 skills than Rossouw’s would enter the reckoning for the final encounter at Twickenham.
The apparent satisfaction over the fitness of Adi Jacobs and Bakkies Botha is a relief: assuming his allegedly “gouged” eye has fully mended, hard man Botha may be expected to earn at least an hour’s play this time as the Boks build him up to potentially “80-minute readiness” for the task against old enemy England a week later.
Jacobs, never mind having “improved” defensively over the past year or so, did so well again in that capacity against Wales that perhaps it is almost time to actually brand his tenacious front-on tackling and industrious back-tracking a strength. His enterprise on attack has never been in doubt, of course.
The Boks’ Captain Courageous, John Smit, gets another opportunity to cement his tighthead credentials after passing the acid test against Gethin Jenkins near-splendidly at the Millennium Stadium.
Still, as a thinking rugby player he will be the first to realise it was a step on a long road, and that the bulky Scottish loosehead Allan Jacobsen – not nicknamed ‘Chunk’ for nothing – presents another stern challenge.
Jacobsen and experienced tighthead Euan Murray got some good engagement “hits” on against All Black second-string props John Afoa and debutant Jamie Mackintosh last Saturday, even in the 32-6 defeat for Scotland, and the New Zealand scrum only really stabilised thoroughly in the final quarter when Neemia Tialata entered the fray off the bench.
The Scots will have taken to heart the television commentators’ theory that they were “all perspiration but little inspiration” against the All Blacks.
Mind you, the Springboks, in turn, may have “inspiration” plans of their own following the vote of confidence in the XV, and be keen to eclipse the two tries (one an intercept) they managed in Cardiff.
And in that sort of fluid environment, Spies is well capable of routing his doubters.Tweet