Du Preez and Fourie return
Bulls captain and playmaker Fourie du Preez and Lions outside centre Jaque Fourie have followed up their glory-filled run as first choice World Cup-winning Springboks by not doing much.
Both have been hampered by injuries, but solid Currie Cup runs have persuaded the selectors to draft them back into the squad.
Both are on the bench for Saturday’s match against Argentina, but should hopefully be back to full strength next week when the Tri-Nations resumes at Newlands with the Boks taking on the resurgent All Blacks who are topping the points table.
Du Preez will look to resume his controlling halfback partnership with Butch James, while Fourie will want to pair up again with first choice inside centre Jean de Villiers.
The men who stepped into the breach in their absence, Ricky Januarie at scrumhalf and Adrian Jacobs at outside centre, have done commendably, with Jacobs courageous in attack and defence and Januarie’s individual try in Dunedin ensuring victory, but Fourie and Du Preez have that X-factor, as they showed in France last year.
However, let’s not forget that Argentina have a lot to prove, and will be pushing for a spot in an expanded Four Nations tournament.
They have lost some talent to retirement, most obviously former captain and scrumhalf Agustin Pichot, but they are a gutsy team that will give the Boks plenty of work to do.
With Du Preez and Fourie back in action, Peter de Villiers has made the decision to release Francois Steyn and Ruan Pienaar back to their provinces.
The two Sharks utility backs, along with Odwa Ndungane and Gurthro Steenkamp, will all see Currie Cup action this weekend.
De Villiers has copped some criticism for this move, but defended his decision, saying that ‘it was in the interest of the players themselves that we decided to release them to their unions so that they can get game time. Surely that is better than just holding tackle bags all week.”
De Villiers has a point about his players needing to shake off some rust, but the move has left his squad with only one specialist flyhalf in Butch James, with Peter Grant still injured.
This means that Percy Montgomery is now effectively the back-up flyhalf, a position he has not played in since early in his career.
De Villiers has acknowledged that the situation is far from ideal, saying that ‘Percy will never start at flyhalf while I’m coach, but if we need to [use him] he will be there”. But he admits that neither Pienaar nor Steyn have had strong enough showings at number 10 to ensure their automatic inclusion.
The Bok line-up for Saturday’s Test at the newly renamed Coca-Cola Park (previously Ellis Park) has the slightly uncertain feel of one somewhere between a first and second XV.
With Schalk Burger and Bryan Habana still injured, the selectors have opted to replace Burger with Luke Watson, and uncapped Cheetahs speedster Jongi Nokwe makes his debut in Habana’s usual left wing position.
Nokwe has been stellar for the Cheetahs in both Super 14 and Currie Cup, and De Villiers is hoping that he can shine against Argentina and then slip into the troublesome right wing position, where a clear first choice is not apparent.
Injury to Ryan Kankowski has seen Pierre Spies begin to cement a starting position at number eight.
Tendai ‘Beast” Mtawarira is starting at loosehead.
The one component that the Boks have been struggling with this whole season, is consistency.
De Villiers must minimise disruptions and ensure that
his players work cohesively so they can live up to their World Champion status.