The Rugby Championship Opening Weekend: The Springboks

With the opening matches of the 2016 edition of the Rugby Championship only one day away, I feel that there is no better time for me to write my first entry.

The Springboks, under newly appointed head coach Allister Coetzee, have been disappointing in 2016 thus far. South Africa’s recent series against an Irish side which was largely diminished due to injury gave the South African rugby fan real cause for concern, as they barely managed to scrape through with a 2-1 series win. The new coach will be hoping to put the home series behind him, as he faces the tough challenge of Los Pumas tomorrow.

Despite having the historical advantage (with Argentina only managing a lonely one victory over the African giants), Coetzee’s men will have it all to prove as the side chosen for South Africa’s opening clash has caused a great deal of controversy among South African supporters. Many selections for the greater 31-man squad have raised several eyebrows, with several notable omissions from Super Rugby and European Rugby being picked out.

The Springbok side to run out at the Mbombela Stadium reads as follows:

  1. Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira
  2. Adriaan Strauss (Captain)
  3. Julian Redelinghuys
  4. Eben Etzebeth
  5. Lood de Jager
  6. Francois Louw
  7. Teboho “Oupa” Mahoje
  8. Warren Whiteley
  9. Faf de Klerk
  10. Elton Jantjies
  11. Bryan Habana
  12. Damian de Allende
  13. Lionel Mapoe
  14. Ruan Combrinck
  15. Johan Goosen
  16. Bongi Mbonambi
  17. Steven Kitshoff
  18. Vincent Koch
  19. Pieter-Steph du Toit
  20. Jaco Kriel
  21. Rudy Paige
  22. Juan de Jongh
  23. Jesse Kriel

What this side has to its credit is three options for first receivers off of set play, in the form of Elton Jantjies, Johan Goosen and Ruan Combrinck. All three of these players have proven their abilities as playmakers and tactical kickers, however it would be a safe bet that Goosen is relied on to do the majority of the territorial kicking duties. The attacking flair of Jantjies has been magnificent to watch over the past season of Super Rugby, and his interplay with the powerful yet still pacy wing, Combrinck, has resulted in several tries and open field runs throughout the Lions’ almost cinderella-like campaign. Combrinck also boasts a considerable boot to ensure that the Springbok are not bogged down in their 22.

However, my problem with the Springbok backline comes in at number 12. Damian de Allende has been a shadow of his former self for both the Stormers and the Springboks this season. Despite scoring one of the tries of the series against Ireland (powering over Robbie Henshaw and scoring under the posts), De Allende has been largely static on attack and almost phoning in his defensive efforts. De Allende has a shockingly low pass rate for an inside centre, and the passes that he has made this season have been dreadful, often resulting in play going backwards. For the most part, once the ball has reached De Allende this season, it has died with De Allende. Despite a relatively high tackle success rate, De Allende’s tackle count has been disappointingly low this season, and he very seldom has managed to push the attackers back in the tackle. For these reasons, I believe that De Allende should be relegated back to the Stormers and the Western Province to find his form again.

The back up for De Allende in the greater squad, however, is shockingly sparse, with the only possible no. 12 cover being Juan de Jongh and Johan Goosen, both of which are more suited to the no. 13 birth. I was shocked to see that the in-form and incredibly talented youngster Rohan Janse van Rensberg was not called up for national duty. There were rumours around a possible injury after the Super Rugby Final, however these rumours have been quashed by Janse van Rensburg on Twitter. Janse van Rensburg made a remarkable debut season effort, scoring ten tries throughout the season, making massive meters with every carry, and making several powerful tackles which pushed the opposition back. I hope to see this young talent be utilised by Coetzee in the end of year tour, if not sooner, as the Springboks are in desperate need of him.

And now onto my personal favourite, the forwards…

The South African scrum, lineout and breakdown have been the Springboks’ historical strengths, the foundation of South African rugby intimidation and power over the past 20 years. This Springbok forward pack, however, shows an intent to shy away from the old school bulldozing tactics of Heyneke Meyer and his predecessors in favour of a more fast paced, open brand of rugby. This excites me a lot! Despite being a smaller Springbok pack than South African fans are used to, the South African forwards for Saturday’s test are still dominant in all of the traditional aspects of South African rugby.

That being said, I would like to make a few changes to the starting eight, starting with no. 1. Mtawarira has been, for some time now, a strong ball carrier and powerful scrummager. However I feel that the 31-year-old’s age is catching up with him, as his fitness levels are no longer up to standard and his scrummaging has suffered severely. Mtawarira has given away a fair number of penalties at scrum time this season, and quite simply does not have the scrumming technique to match that of Redelinghuys.

Julian Redelinghuys has been the dominant force in every forward pack of which he has been a part this season, and this is due to the fact that he scrums from an incredibly low position, which gives him a major advantage. The powerful front rower also boasts some serious skills, as he is able to offload in the tackle with relative ease, pass at speed and his defensive record is superb.

Redelinghuys’ scrumming technique is similar to that of Steven Kitshoff, and as such I would pair the red haired loosehead prop with the young Lions tighthead in the starting front row. Kitshoff is a mobile prop with decent ball skills and is deserving of his recall into the Bok side.

To complete the front row, I would get rid of the incumbent captain Strauss, as his work rate of late is far too low for international recognition and his scrummaging technique is shoddy (I doubt he could out scrum the current Greys Bloem 3rd team hooker at this point). To Strauss’ credit, though, he does boast a fair pedigree at lineouts with a 90% success rate, however this can also be attributed to the abilities of his jumpers and should not rest solely on his shoulders. As far as captaincy goes, it has been clear to see that although Strauss is a somewhat decent leader, the real leaders on the pitch for the Springboks have been Warren Whiteley and Francois Louw, as both men have lifted the team greatly with their presence, and have led by example throughout the season for their respective franchises (Whiteley as iconic Lions captain, Louw as a senior player for Bath).

In Strauss’ place, I would select the fiery and powerful Malcolm Marx, who has proven himself as South Africa’s best hooker this season. Although Bongi Mbonambi has been a part of the Bok set-up for longer, his general play as well as set pieces do not compare with the talent of Marx. Marx has enjoyed good success at lineout time (high 80%) and is a powerful scrummager alongside Redelinghuys for the Lions. However it is Marx’s work rate in open play that seals his place in my starting XV as he has pace and power and is constantly contesting for the ball at the breakdown. He is effectively an extra loose forward with solid set piece hooker skills.

My final critique would be that of the inclusion of Oupa Mahoje in the 31-man squad as a whole, let alone in the starting XV. Mahoje has suffered with injury throughout the season, and his performances in the matches that he has played have been average at best. Mahoje has shown poor discipline with a high penalty count against him, and he has done little to earn his inclusion in the squad for me. I would prefer to see the likes of Sikhombuzo Notshe be given an opportunity off of the bench with Louw moving over to seven and Kriel starting at six. Notshe has shown his versatility as a backrower, and he is a livewire on both attack and defence.

My match day 23 for the Springboks would read as follows:

  1. Steven Kitshoff
  2. Malcolm Marx
  3. Julian Redelinghuys
  4. Eben Etzebeth
  5. Lood de Jager
  6. Jaco Kriel
  7. Francois Louw
  8. Warren Whiteley (Captain)
  9. Faf de Klerk
  10. Elton Jantjies
  11. Bryan Habana
  12. Rohan Janse van Rensberg
  13. Lionel Mapoe
  14. Ruan Combrinck
  15. Johan Goosen
  16. Bongi Mbonambi
  17. Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira
  18. Vincent Koch
  19. Pieter-Steph du Toit
  20. Sikhombuzo Notshe
  21. Rudy Paige
  22. Juan de Jongh
  23. Jesse Kriel

Please feel free to comment if you agree or disagree.

3 thoughts on “The Rugby Championship Opening Weekend: The Springboks

  1. Wow amazing detail, great perspective on tomorrow’s match 👌👐… Lets hope the boks can take the win with the current team though, I’ll be drinking in anticipation till then 🙈

    Like

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