The form of star wing Bryan Habana and the myriad problems caused by the injury question marks hanging over several key players should give Springbok coach Peter de Villiers plenty to think about as he prepares for Saturday’s final clash of this tour against England at Twickenham on Saturday.
Gavin Rich writes on SuperRugby that in being beaten 28-14 by Australia in their second Autumn international clash at the weekend, England showed that they are not the force they once were, and after beating England several times in the World Cup year and also with an under-strength team here in London two years ago, the Boks should expect to win.
But that is what we have said before both the tour matches so far, and against both Wales and Scotland the Boks only just scraped home.
The massive impact the loss of Bismarck du Plessis had on the scrumming against Scotland was clear for all to see, with Brian Mujati’s struggle at tighthead bringing into focus what a gamble it was for De Villiers not to have selected an experienced man to back up John Smit in the position.
If Bismarck is forced home, his brother Jannie is ready to fly out, with a final decision to be made by Monday lunch-time. Many critics argued at the time of the Bok squad announcement that Du Plessis should have been in the team in the first place, but because he has not been here the past two weeks, scrumming coach Gary Gold will have his time cut out absorbing him into the unit.
The question of whether Du Plessis goes straight into the starting line-up if he is called up is an interesting one. Mujati has struggled at international level so far, but he was selected ahead of Du Plessis initially, so a Du Plessis selection in the No 3 jersey would be a highly contentious call to make.
First prize of course for De Villiers would be to have Bismarck miraculously recover from his hamstring injury, but even then you would have to say the Boks have been set back ahead of the battle with the strong England scrumming pack by the fact that Smit did not get another 80 minutes of game-time on the right hand side of the scrum at Murrayfield.
The other big injury concern is that to Fourie du Preez, and given how Ruan Pienaar struggled in the absence of his calming, experienced mentorship in Edinburgh, the halfback situation could prove even more problematic than the front-row if the quad injury that kept Du Preez out last week was to rule him out of the Twickenham match.
Again, as with the front-row, such an eventuality will expose potential weaknesses that will bring the initial selection into question.
It was not ideal for the Boks to start, as they did in Edinburgh, with a flyhalf who was in effect also the reserve scrumhalf on the day, and if it goes pear-shaped at Twickenham the Bok management will rue the absence, even if only as cover, of the experienced Butch James.
Then there is Habana. The 2007 IRB World Player of the Year is enduring a nightmare patch at present, and the number of balls he dropped at Murrayfield before being replaced mirrored a loss of confidence.
The Bok coach said afterwards that Habana was replaced because he had received a knock, but even if Habana is not injured, the Boks are going to have to make a big selection call.
De Villiers trotted out that old line about class being permanent and form temporary when asked to comment on Habana after Murrayfield, and said that it was part of his job to work Habana through his confidence problem.
It would though be a risk to play him at Twickenham, and this is where the ultra-conservative selection for the matches so far may come back to bite the Boks.
Murrayfield should have been an opportunity to give Jonghi Nokwe, the man who scored four tries against Australia just two matches ago, a run. There are some who say you don’t play Nokwe against England, but then why bring him on tour in the first place as the second left wing if you don’t have confidence in him?
Jaque Fourie showed as a replacement in Edinburgh that he has to be a member of the starting lineup, but to ignore Nokwe would introduce the same questions that a Du Plessis selection ahead of Mujati would.
Adrian Jacobs has enjoyed a fine return to international rugby this season, but Fourie brings strengths he lacks, and as the man who was the incumbent at the World Cup, now is the time for the Lions player to be reunited with his old No 13 jersey and erstwhile midfield partner Jean de Villiers.
Another possible option at left wing is Frans Steyn, who showed when he came on in Edinburgh that he is also too good a player to leave out and whose lengthy field kicking could come in handy if Du Preez is not in the team for the London match.Tweet