Coach Heyneke Meyer knows that he needs to add more attacking spark in year two of his tenure with the national team, and the two new caps chosen for the Test against Italy in Durban on Saturday could be the first steps in that process. By KEN BORLAND.
Cheetahs wizard Willie le Roux will start at fullback and Bulls scrumhalf Jano Vermaak in the number nine jersey, with three other uncapped players on the bench in prop Trevor Nyakane, loose forward Arno Botha and centre Jan Serfontein.
By the end of this quadrangular series also featuring Scotland and Samoa, we should know whether Le Roux’s roaming style of play and his dazzling trickery with ball in hand can be successful at Test level. It has certainly sparked something special for the Cheetahs and the 35 tries they have scored so far this season in SuperRugby is the best in the South African Conference and only the Chiefs, Waratahs and Rebels have scored more overall.
It is the Bulls, however, who are leading the South African Conference and it is in no small way thanks to Vermaak’s snappy clearing of the rucks and his speed off the mark on attack that they have 32 tries themselves and have impressed with the balance of their game between penetrative forward runners and a backline that is growing in confidence.
Replacement Ruan Pienaar may have been a star for Ulster again this year, but the 29-year-old has not been part of any of the Springbok training camps and Meyer said he had also gone for the established Morné Steyn/Vermaak combination at halfback.
This means there is no place for Francois Hougaard, even on the bench, with Pat Lambie and Serfontein the other backline reserves. Hougaard would appear to have paid the price for his scrappy service during a slow return from injury, although he was much-improved in the Bulls’ impressive win over the Cheetahs last weekend.
The 20-year-old Serfontein could even be in line for a start, coming in for Jean de Villiers at inside centre if the captain does not recover sufficiently from a hamstring niggle.
Meyer is well-known for his fondness for a big, strong ball-carrier at inside centre, but he has ignored, for the moment anyway, the exciting possibility of having the robust Serfontein at 12 and De Villiers at outside centre.
Instead, JJ Engelbrecht, who the jury is still out on (is he a better centre than a wing?) will wear the number 13 jersey having only played 10 previous minutes of Test rugby as a replacement on the wing against Argentina last year.
Bjorn Basson, so brilliant in the air, makes a return on the left wing to play his first Test since 2011, with the rest of the team pretty much as predicted.
Lourens Adriaanse, Gio Aplon, Marcell Coetzee, Robert Ebersohn, Bismarck du Plessis, Zane Kirchner, Siya Kolisi, Lappies Labuschagné, Lwazi Mvovo and Franco van der Merwe will be twiddling their thumbs next to Hougaard on the side of the field as Meyer goes for some continuity with 10 of the players who appeared in the last Test of 2012, the 16-15 win over England at Twickenham, featuring again this weekend.
The likes of Adriaanse, Aplon, Coetzee, Ebersohn, Kolisi, Labuschagné, Mvovo and Van der Merwe are likely to be given the opportunity of picking up some valuable experience later in the series, but for now Meyer wants to get his 2013 campaign up-and-running with a win over the tricky Italians.
Italian rugby is certainly on the up, as shown by a fourth-place finish in the Six Nations, and their physical pack has the ability to front up to the Springbok forwards.
But how pleasing it would be if it were the attacking skills of a Le Roux-inspired backline that proved the difference at King’s Park. DM
Team: Willie le Roux, Bryan Habana, JJ Engelbrecht, Jean de Villiers, Bjorn Basson, Morné Steyn, Jano Vermaak, Pierre Spies, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Juandré Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe, Arno Botha, Ruan Pienaar, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein.
Photo: Heyneke Meyer (Reuters)
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