Sizing up the Springboks

Picking a Springbok team is every South African's favourite past-time. For Bok coach Peter de Villiers it is a little more than just a passing hobby - in fact, it is an exercise that saves his job on a weekly basis. [more]

Sizing up the Springboks

Picking a Springbok team is every South African’s favourite past-time. For Bok coach Peter de Villiers it is a little more than just a passing hobby – in fact, it is an exercise that saves his job on a weekly basis.

And for once – at least in the public’s eyes – de Villiers, the first non-white Bok mentor, seems to have got things right.
 
The selection of Ruan Pienaar ahead of in-form Bulls match-winner Morné Steyn is a possible area of debate. The fact is, De Villiers believes the Sharks playmaker is the man to lead his gameplan, but – on the flipside – at least Steyn is there on the bench as a form of insurance should things go horribly wrong.
 
With five Super 14-winning Bulls stars in the starting ling-up and another three among the replacements, De Villiers has largely rewarded the form players in South African rugby, whilst also staying loyal to the players he believes in; Pienaar and fellow Shark Adrian Jacobs.
 
One selection that could prove a masterstroke, however, is Heinrich Brüssow at No.6, the hard-tackling Cheetahs star – a specialist ball-scavenging fetcher – coming in for Bok hero and crowd favourite Schalk Burger almost at the 11th hour. Burger has not fully recovered from the calf muscle injury which kept him out of the latter stages of the Super 14, but it would have taken a brave coach not to select the Bok hardman in the No.6 shirt.
 
His absence, however, has given Brüssow a chance to start his first Test and it’s an opportunity that could influence the outcome of this three-Test series more than people yet realize.

Here’s a quick run down on the men hoping to turn Paul O’Connell’s Lions dream into a nightmare in Durban this weekend…
 
(15) Francois Steyn (Sharks)

The man with a booming boot and a World Cup winners’ medal – at the age of just 20 – returns to the position where former coach Jake White always believed he would flourish. Having recently signed a lucrative deal with French club Racing Metro, this precocious backline talent will be looking to show Bok fans what they will be missing. In 27 Tests, he has started 13 times, wearing the No.11 (one), No.15 (three), No.12 (seven), No.10 (one) and No.13 (one) jerseys.

Danger rating 7/10

(14) JP Pietersen (Sharks)

Last year this time, the World Cup winner had yet to score a first-class try after an indifferent Super 14 campaign for the Sharks and was promptly dropped from the Bok squad for the June Tests. The 2009 Super 14 was a different proposition for him, however; scoring six tries and showing the kind of defence that made him such a crucial part of South Africa’s World Cup triumph. An easy selection alongside Bryan Habana.

Danger rating 8/10

"JP

JP Pietersen is a consistently strong performer for the world champions

(13) Adi Jacobs (Sharks)

A Peter de Villiers favourite, the creative Sharks centre started in all but two Springbok Tests in 2008. He rewarded his coach’s faith by touching down six times in 11 appearances and being one of five players nominated for South Africa’s coveted Rugby Player of the Year Award. A niggling shoulder injury hampered his 2009 Super 14 campaign, but he has delayed surgery in order to participate in the Lions series. Made his Test debut in November 2001 and had played 10 matches for the Boks by the end of 2002. Winning his 12th cap, however, took almost six years and he now has 21 overall.

Danger rating 7/10

(12) Jean de Villiers (Stormers)

The selection of South Africa’s reigning Rugby Player of the Year was always a no-brainer, despite an injury-hit Super 14, which saw him last start a match on April 18. Still, he remains a class act and a predator-like player on attack and defence and a dangerman the Lions would do well to try and neutralise. He wrecked his knee on debut against France in 2002, missed the 2003 World Cup with a shoulder injury and a bicep injury cut short his 2007 RWC campaign after just one match.

Danger rating 7/10

(11) Bryan Habana (Bulls)

Try-machine Habana – the IRB’s World Player of the Year in 2007 – is once again showing the kind of form that saw him take world rugby by storm at the World Cup in France. Thirty-two tries in 46 Tests and 37 Super Rugby tries in just five seasons speak volumes for a man who is more than just a finisher. Scored a try with his first touch in Springbok colours – as a replacement – against England in November 2004.

Danger rating 9/10

(10) Ruan Pienaar (Sharks)

A contentious selection in some quarters, given the imperious form of the Bulls’ Morné Steyn, Pienaar has had an injury-hit 2009. A knee injury saw him start just eight Super 14 matches, before an ankle injury in the Sharks’ last game put him back on the treatment table. He remains coach de Villiers’ key playmaker, despite having started just three Test matches (out of 27) in the No.10 shirt. Interestingly, 39 out of his 62 Test points have come in those three outings as South Africa’s starting fly-half; against Wales, Scotland and England last year. He is the son of 1980 Springbok fullback Gysie Pienaar. 

Danger rating 6/10

"Ruan

Ruan Pienaar (second from right) starts ahead of Morne Steyn (far left)

(9) Fourie du Preez (Bulls)

Without doubt South Africa’s key man, as he was in the 2007 World Cup – his performance against England in the pool stages possibly the greatest showing from a modern-day No.9. A gifted footballer with no obvious weaknesses; his kicking game remains his greatest strength, his passing is crisp, his running game severely underrated and his defence more than sound. It’s his calmness under pressure and option-taking, however, that serve him so well and that’s what separates him from other scrumhalves in world rugby.

Danger rating 9/10

(8) Pierre Spies (Bulls)

A man with plenty to prove, and judging by his 2009 Super 14 form for the Bulls he is well on his way to making up for lost time after missing the 2007 World Cup due to a mysterious lung ailment. Question marks remain over his one-on-one tackling and ability to dominate in the tight exchanges – but if the game gets a bit loose and he gets some decent front foot ball, few defences can contain him.

Danger rating 7/10

(7) Juan Smith (Cheetahs)

Possibly the most underrated member of the South African pack, the unassuming Cheetahs captain has quietly racked up 54 Test appearances since his debut in 2003. Concerns about his long-term well-being were brought up after collapsing in the dressing-room after a Super 14 match against the Reds earlier this year, but he returned to lead the Cheetahs to fine home wins over the Sharks and the Crusaders later in the competition.

Danger rating 8/10

(6) Heinrich Brüssow (Cheetahs)

Lions fans will no doubt remember the former SA Schools and SA Sevens ace from their clash in Bloemfontein a few weeks ago. Overlooked for the initial 28-man Bok squad, despite a stellar Super 14 campaign, he has now been promoted straight into the starting XV after Schalk Burger was officially ruled out of the first Test. Not your average Springbok flanker, standing just 1.81m tall, his inclusion – more by default – could just work out for the hosts come that crucial breakdown scrap.

Danger rating 7/10

(5) Victor Matfield (Bulls, vice-captain)

The Bulls ended the 2009 Super 14 league season at the top of the standings, that after ending a miserable 10th last year. The difference? Victor Matfield – leader, lineout kingpin and a man with handling skills that would make most three-quarters proud. Part of his rationale to return home from a lucrative deal in France last year was to have a crack at the Lions, and he now has his chance.

Danger rating 9/10

"Victor

Victor Matfield is one of the Boks’ key men on and off the field

(4) Bakkies Botha (Bulls)

Whilst Matfield collects the plaudits and the lions’ share of line-out ball, his provincial, Super 14 and Bok colleague does all the unseen hard yards alongside him. The undoubted hard man of the Springbok pack, he is still prone to the odd off-the-ball scuffle, but none of the brain explosions that marred his career early on and saw him suspended for eye-gouging back in 2003. Amazingly, of his 55 Test caps to date (since his debut against France in 2002 – when he picked up a yellow card), 54 have been as a starting player.

Danger rating 8/10

(3) John Smit (Sharks, captain)

No player has captained the Springboks more times than Smit (55) and no Bok forward has played more Test rugby than the Sharks ace (81). In short, no current South African player is as influential as Smit – despite what some pundits might be thinking after his recent move to tighthead prop. He remains an integral part of this side and will be relishing the opportunity to prove people wrong – as he did throughout Jake White’s tenure between 2004 and 2007.

Danger rating 8/10

(2) Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks)

Bismarck has the ability to become a true Springbok great, in fact his presence – and potential – basically led to John Smit’s move from hooker. His raw physical strength and ball-carrying abilities are not in question, but he needs to cut out those simple errors that marred his play during the Super 14. His dad Francois played Provincial rugby at prop, whilst his brother Jannie (also a prop) is a fellow 2007 World Cup winner and played against the Lions for the Cheetahs earlier this month.

Danger rating 7/10

(1) Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira (Sharks)

Considering that he was still a No8 in 2006, the Beast’s rise to fame has been nothing short of spectacular. In fact, so quick was his development as a prop that he was still listed as a loose forward in the 2007 SA Rugby Annual, but by the end of 2008 he was nominated as one of South Africa’s five Players of the Year. His Test debut came against Wales in June last year – ironically with Gethin Jenkins as the opposition loosehead – and he featured in 10 out of South Africa’s 13 Tests in 2008.

Danger rating 7/10

"The

The Springbok squad is the first to face the Lions for 12 years

Replacements:

(16) Gurthrö Steenkamp (Bulls)

A 2007 World Cup winner, Steenkamp’s career stalled somewhat last year due to the emergence of the ‘Beast’. Considered by many – including the great man himself – to be Os du Randt’s obvious successor, his Super 14 showings for the championship-winning Bulls certainly backed up that statement.

Danger rating 6/10

(17) Deon Carstens (Sharks)

Having won seven caps between 2002 and 2007, Carstens is embarking on his third spell with the Boks. His debut came in November 2002 at tighthead prop, but it took him nearly four years to earn his third cap; at loosehead prop. Amazingly, five of his seven appearances have been against England; winning three times and losing twice.

Danger rating 6/10

(18) Andries Bekker (Stormers)

The son of former Western Province lock Hennie, Andries – at 2.08m – became the tallest-ever Springbok when he made his debut against Wales in June 2008. He went on to feature in every one of South Africa’s thirteen Tests last year – starting four of them, but a rib injury saw him miss a chunk of the 2009 Super 14 where he once again impressed for the Stormers.

Danger rating 6/10

(19) Danie Rossouw (Bulls)

Rossouw was first picked for the Springboks in 2001, but a knee injury saw him miss out on a chance to tour with Harry Viljoen’s squad. He eventually got his chance after being a last-minute pick in Rudolf Straeuli’s 2003 World Cup squad but was a key member of Jake White’s RWC-winning side at No8 in 2007, his last-ditch tackle on England wing Mark Cueto in the Final making him an instant hero.

"Fourie

Danie Rossouw (second from right) is one of eight Bulls in the Bok 22

Danger rating 7/10

(20) Ricky Januarie (Stormers)

Not everybody’s favourite, but a few short months ago he was the toast of South Africa when his cheeky snipe and kick-‘n-gather in Dunedin broke his country’s duck at Carisbrook. (That score was voted as the 2008 Try of the Year in South Africa.) Unable to command a regular starting berth at the Stormers this year, losing his place to youngster Dewaldt Duvenage, he remains an experienced member of the Bok squad and a royal pain to play against.

Danger rating 6/10

(21) Jaque Fourie (Lions)

Not many international replacements can boast a Rugby World Cup winners’ medal, 42 Test caps and 20 tries – the most by a Springbok centre. With Jacobs ensconced as his coach’s first-choice outside centre, talk was that Fourie would be moved to fullback; a position he occupied as a youngster, but he has to be content with a place on the bench due to Frans Steyn’s superior kicking game.

Danger rating 8/10

(22) Morné Steyn (Bulls)

The only uncapped member of the Springbok 22, yet his exclusion would probably have been the biggest surprise after his heroics for the Super 14-winning Bulls. Having finally emerged – on a full-time basis – from the shadows of Derick Hougaard, Steyn rattled up 191 points this past Super 14 season, the highest aggregate ever by a South African. His four drop-goals, in the semifinals against the Crusaders, are an overall tournament record.

Danger rating 7/10

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