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Ken Borland

Concerns through the team for Meyer ahead of quadrangular 0

Posted on May 04, 2016 by Ken


Fullback and flyhalf are the positions the public is talking about the most, but Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will be equally concerned about lock, scrumhalf, centre and wing when he announces his squad on Saturday for the quadrangular series with Italy, Scotland and Samoa next month.

Flyhalf is actually one of the positions Meyer can rest easy over, with Morné Steyn making himself a certainty in the number 10 jersey with his great run for the in-form Bulls team.

South Africa are fortunate to have someone as talented as Pat Lambie as back-up, but a host of injuries have robbed Meyer of some key backline players. JP Pietersen, Jaco Taute and Frans Steyn are definitely out for at least the next month, while Juan de Jongh and Zane Kirchner have not played SuperRugby for some time.

That leaves some conundrums when it comes to the midfield combination and who will play fullback.

When Meyer first took over as Springbok coach, he chose Jean de Villiers as an outside centre and, given his polished display in the number 13 jersey in the Stormers’ return to winning ways last weekend, the national captain is likely to play there in the quadrangular series.

The Springbok management have given a big hint that 20-year-old Jan Serfontein is being lined up to make his Test debut inside the skipper as he has been withdrawn from the SA U20 team leaving today for the Junior World Championship in France. Robert Ebersohn has done much to make the Cheetahs serious SuperRugby contenders this year and is also an option but, despite his propensity to tackle way above his weight, he has still missed 31 tackles this season, the joint worst with Blues flyhalf Chris Noakes, according to

The other option is for De Villiers to play in the number 12 jersey he wore in the second half of 2012 and for JJ Engelbrecht to play 13. The Bulls youngster is almost certain to be in the squad, however, as he can also cover wing.

The back three is also a big problem for Meyer given the injuries to Pietersen, Taute, Frans Steyn and Kirchner. Bryan Habana, whose work rate and pace continue to impress, is the only certainty, while the coach might decide to move Francois Hougaard back to wing, given that the Bulls man has only recently returned from injury and has looked messy and off the pace at scrumhalf.

The other candidates for wing are Bjorn Basson, who could be favoured because of his tremendous ability in the air, Raymond Rhule, Lwazi Mvovo, Gio Aplon and Willie le Roux.

The latter two are also in the mix to be fullback. Meyer would be foolish to risk playing his regular number 15, Kirchner, given that he has not played any rugby in 10 weeks since having a finger operation.

But he could still pick an experienced international there by moving Lambie from flyhalf to fullback. Hopefully Meyer will also have the courage to consider playing Cheetahs magician Willie le Roux there, even if it is off the bench.

The Ulster-based Ruan Pienaar is likely to be the starting scrumhalf, with the pace on attack provided by Jano Vermaak a useful complementary attribute on the bench.

The second row is also going to be an interesting dilemma for Meyer. The great Bakkies Botha will be available, but the coach has already hinted that Pienaar and flank Francois Louw will be the only overseas-based players he will be calling on for the quadrangular.

The inconsistent Andries Bekker is not willing to play for the Springboks once he leaves for Japan – and is injured anyway – but Juandré Kruger will be available and is the obvious choice in the number five jersey, providing he is over the niggling injury that kept him from the field in the Springboks’ training camp this week.

Eben Etzebeth showed in his outstanding display for the Stormers last weekend that he will be able to fulfil the lineout general’s role as well, but if Bakkies is not going to be called up, the team might be stronger with Etzebeth at four.

Franco van der Merwe, so reliable for the Sharks this year, will then be the back-up number five.

The loose forward selection will inevitably be coloured by Meyer’s decision to once again ignore Heinrich Brüssow.

The Cheetahs openside flank has managed to con many critics that he is still as potent a fetcher as he was in 2009, but all the stats providers involved in SuperRugby show otherwise. He isn’t in the top 20 for pilfers on any of the stats sites, but where he does feature is in the top 10 for tackles made.

Meyer is right to be wary of unleashing Brüssow with northern hemisphere referees officiating and the rules of his trade much stricter these days, but contesting rucks is not the honey badger’s only skill. Brüssow is exceptionally strong for his size, has a great work rate and good ball skills and is hopefully not entirely out of Meyer’s plans, if even as an impact player.

It seems inevitable that the starting loose trio on June 8 against Italy in Durban will be Pierre Spies, Willem Alberts and Louw, with the bench spots contested between Marcell Coetzee, Arno Botha and new star Lappies Labuschagne.

Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss and Coenie Oosthuizen are bound to be the starting front row and Wiehahn Herbst is in line for his Test debut as reserve tighthead, with Chiliboy Ralepelle and Tendai Mtawarira the other reserves now that teams are compelled to have two props on the bench.

Bismarck du Plessis is in a similar position to Kirchner and should not be risked as he has not played a SuperRugby match the entire season. A run of three games for the Sharks after the June international window and Du Plessis should be ready to explode into Rugby Championship action having recovered properly from a serious knee injury.

Ralepelle will certainly not let the side down in the meantime, having shown accuracy at the lineout, great work rate and presence at the breakdowns for the Bulls this season.

What Meyer is not going to be conned into doing is playing flavours-of-the-month that may not be contenders for the next World Cup that is just 840 days away, no matter how vigorously their brilliance is debated in your local bar.

No more than a pair of new caps in Serfontein and Le Roux are worth betting on, but it should make fans happy that the Springbok coach can afford not to choose some of the other great talent laying around.

Probable squad – Pat Lambie, Willie le Roux, Bryan Habana, Lwazi Mvovo, Jean de Villiers, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Robert Ebersohn, Francois Hougaard, Bjorn Basson, Morné Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Jano Vermaak, Pierre Spies, Arno Botha, Willem Alberts, Lappies Labuschagne, Francois Louw, Marcell Coetzee, Juandré Kruger, Franco van der Merwe, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Flip van der Merwe, Jannie du Plessis, Wiehahn Herbst, Adriaan Strauss, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Coenie Oosthuizen, Tendai Mtawarira.

Beyers has amnesty after one game 0

Posted on September 24, 2014 by Ken

Fullback Ulrich Beyers has received amnesty after just one game for his undisclosed disciplinary offence and been included in the Vodacom Blue Bulls starting XV for their Absa Currie Cup match against the Toyota Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Friday.
Beyers is one of six changes to the Bulls’ starting line-up after their 26-15 defeat by the Sharks last weekend, replacing young prospect Jesse Kriel in the No 15 jersey.

“Ulrich was withdrawn from the match against the Sharks for personal reasons, it was an off-field matter and we’re happy with the way the disciplinary hearing went,” Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said on Tuesday, without revealing any further details, although there have been suggestions the misdemeanour was alcohol-related.

The return of Beyers is one of four changes to the backline, with the Bulls welcoming back Springboks Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht and Piet van Zyl.

Engelbrecht’s campaign to get back into international rugby begins in earnest on Friday and the 25-year-old will fill the number 13 jersey left vacant by William Small-Smith’s knee injury suffered against the Sharks last weekend. With the outside centre position in the Springbok team the subject of much debate, Engelbrecht will be eager to finish the year strongly.

The Port Elizabeth-born Engelbrecht played the last of his 12 Tests in November against Scotland at Murrayfield and the time for him to impress is short, with the Bulls struggling to make the Currie Cup playoffs.

The Cheetahs are the team immediately above the Bulls on the log, five points ahead in fifth place, so the importance of victory for Frans Ludeke’s team in their third-last round-robin game is clear. And the coach has responded to the urgency by making six changes to his starting line-up, four of them in the backline.

Apart from Engelbrecht’s return, long-serving star Ndungane replaces fellow Springbok Bjorn Basson, who is yet to regain his spark after a long injury layoff, on the wing, Beyers is back at fullback in place of Kriel after being dropped for the Sharks game for disciplinary reasons, and Van Zyl will be the starting scrumhalf, rotating with Rudy Paige.

There are just two changes up front with captain Deon Stegmann returning in the number six jersey after serving a one-match suspension for elbowing an EP Kings player, and Bongi Mbonambi rotating with Callie Visagie at hooker.

Although flank Jacques du Plessis did not train on Monday due to a badly-bruised thigh, he will be fit for the Bloemfontein trip.

Ludeke said his team are still in the running for the knockout stages of the Currie Cup in October, but they need perfect execution of their game-plan from here on in.

“We’re still in the running, but talking about it doesn’t help, we have to come out and perform. Exerting pressure will be vital, it’s knockout rugby for both teams, and ball-control will be vital for us, we have to be clinical and play in the right areas.

“A bunch of things work for us – like our shift to being more dangerous from broken play, the driving maul from the lineout – we just need to get it all to come together this weekend. We need to get the crucial decisions right in this game,” Ludeke said on Tuesday.

Team: 15-Ulrich Beyers, 14-Akona Ndungane, 13-JJ Engelbrecht, 12-Burger Odendaal, 11-Sampie Mastriet, 10-Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9-Piet van Zyl, 8-Jono Ross, 7-Jacques du Plessis, 6-Deon Stegmann, 5-Grant Hattingh, 4-Paul Willemse, 3-Werner Kruger, 2-Bongi Mbonambi, 1-Dean Greyling. Reserves – 16-Callie Visagie, 17-Morne Mellet, 18-Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 19-Wiaan Liebenberg, 20-Rudy Paige, 21-Tian Schoeman, 22-Jesse Kriel.


Full report –

Barnes to play either 10 or 15 0

Posted on October 12, 2012 by Ken

Australia coach Robbie Deans has not decided yet who his flyhalf will be in Saturday’s Rugby Championship Test against South Africa at Pretoria, but Berrick Barnes reckons he will either be number 10 or number 15 at Loftus Versfeld.

Barnes is one of three contenders for the flyhalf position, along with the mercurial Kurtley Beale and strong kicker Mike Harris, but has also appeared at inside centre this year as well as fullback.

“I’m sure I’ll either be at 10 or 15, and if I’m fullback then I’ll have a lot more work under the high ball. No side tests the fullback as much as the Springboks do. People talk about the forward battle, but you have to deal with the kicking game as well,” Barnes told reporters in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Barnes is fully expecting the Springboks to bombard the Wallabies with high kicks and said the tactic had contributed to Australia struggling to beat South Africa in Perth on September 8.

“You’re not allowed to kick in Australia! But there’s a real appreciation for the kicking game here, I guess it depends on what you find entertaining.

“But it’s a huge part of Test rugby, how you exit your own half and we struggled with that in Perth. We’ll endeavour not to try as many grubbers this time, we got pizzled for it after that game. But they can be effective if you get them through the line … it’s just we didn’t get any through!” Barnes said.

If Barnes does play at flyhalf, he is expecting the Springboks to put pressure on him by running at his channel with their big centres.

“Frans Steyn is over a hundred kilograms, he’s not small, but you have to deal with it as best you can, much like tackling Ma’a Nonu or Sonny Bill Williams. It’s not an easy task and I’m sure they’ll use that same channel to attack, although you also have to be aware of what’s outside that with Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers, who hasn’t been getting many raps but he’s one of the best centres in the world,” Barnes said.

Wallabies media manager Matt McIllraith said a gastrointestinal bug had got her claws into the Australian camp, with lock and captain Nathan Sharpe, props James Slipper and Ben Alexander, lock Sitaleki Timani and loose forwards Liam Gill and Scott Higginbotham all being laid low.

The Wallabies are also waiting on the fitness of hooker Stephen Moore, who strained his hamstring. McIllraith said uncapped Queensland Reds hooker James Hanson is on his way to South Africa to cover for Moore.

If the 29-year-old does not play on Saturday, he will remain level with Jeremy Paul on 72 caps as Australia’s most-capped hooker.

The Wallabies will announce their team on Thursday afternoon.


Jean de Villiers Q&A 0

Posted on October 10, 2012 by Ken


KB: There’s been a lot of talk about the Springbok backline and a lack of spark. Do you think changes are necessary and will Elton Jantjies and Jaco Taute make a difference?

JdV: The guys who’ve been added will definitely bring some youthful enthusiasm. Whenever someone is called up for the first time, they always bring some good energy with them, so it’s a great thing to have some new faces. If they get the opportunity to play, then I’m sure they’ll cherish it. Whenever there’s competition, it’s healthy and it brings the best out of the other players. Especially Jaco Taute, he can play centre or fullback, so he brings a lot of utility, he’s a quality player and I’m sure he’s good enough for Test rugby.

KB: You’ve formed a new partnership this year with Francois Steyn, how is it going? And are you happy at number 13 rather than your usual inside centre position?
JdV: Frans is such an unbelievably talented player and I believe the combination can still grow a lot. We’ve had sparks of brilliance, but I reckon we’re still only at 50-60% of our potential. I’m very happy at 13, there’s a bit more space and width out there and I think it will extend my career as there’s not as much traffic out there.

KB: How has Francois Steyn changed since his time in France with Racing Metro?
JdV: Without doubt he has matured a helluva lot and it definitely did him well. He’s such a talented guy and he’s already achieved so much at the age of 25. He made his Springbok debut aged 19, he won the World Cup at 20 and he already has more than 50 caps. He can still improve so much, but he clearly learnt a lot in France, you can see how he’s matured in his play and off the field. He’s now got much more of a decision-making and leadership role in the Springboks and he’s showing that on the field as well.

KB: The inexperienced pack surprised everyone by dominating the All Blacks in Dunedin. How happy were you after that performance?
JdV: I wasn’t surprised because the side selected had individuals who are very talented, they’re the best in their position and of course they’re going to add value. They showed that they are good enough there and hopefully we can build on that. You only get experience by playing.

KB: There was speculation that Bakkies Botha would be called up from Toulon. How close was he to selection and do you believe he has a role to play for the Springboks going forward?
JdV: I’m not involved with selection, although the coach will maybe consult with me from time to time, so I don’t know how close Bakkies was to selection. The situation is that we always see what’s available in South Africa first. Eben Etzebeth has come through and Flip van der Merwe showed against New Zealand that it’s time for him to stake a claim as well. He has all the talent and there’s Springbok blood flowing through him [His father Flippie was a 6ft5 prop who played six Tests between 1981 and 1989]. If those guys are injured and Bakkies is available, then I’m sure he’d be considered.

KB: Is the squad feeling the pressure of criticism from outside and is there a sense that you have to win these last two Rugby Championship Tests at home?
JdV: Pressure will always be there. I put pressure on myself to perform and as a team we put pressure on ourselves because we want to win every game we’re in the Springbok jersey. But the fact is it is a rebuilding year, we’ve basically lost a whole team with Gurthro Steenkamp, Bismarck du Plessis, Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger, Pierre Spies, Fourie du Preez, Jaque Fourie and JP Pietersen all unavailable. That’s a massive bunch of experience and we’ve lost it so quickly. That puts our results into perspective, although we need to learn from our mistakes. But we do feel it’s vital to win our next two games and we’re looking forward to the challenge.

KB: How does it feel to be criticised by former coaches and players that were close to the team, for instance Peter de Villiers saying there wasn’t enough transformation in the squad?
JdV: I’d rather not comment on previous coaches’ and players’ comments. Our focus is on working towards a goal and we’re sticking to it. It’s important that we listen to the right people and sometimes I’ve felt that the media criticism has been a bit harsh. We just need to win and then everyone will see that we’re on the right track. We believe that we are and we’ve taken a couple of steps in the right direction even though the results didn’t go our way.

KB: You must have been especially disappointed to lose to Australia in Perth after dominating that game for so long?
JdV: Both games overseas, we felt we should have won, but those are the margins of Test rugby. One or two mistakes and you find yourselves 10 points down, but that’s what we need to learn from. That’s where experience comes in and all those names we’ve lost. It reminds me of 2004, there are a lot of similarities. We came close in Christchurch and Perth and then we won the two games at home and ended up winning the Tri-Nations.

KB: You also made the All Blacks look very beatable. You must take a lot of confidence from that?
JdV: Exactly. We’re not just focused on the result. We were up against the best in the world – the World Cup winners – and we came close to beating them at home, so that was good for us. They will still probably go on to win the tournament, but stranger things have happened in sport. We’re still holding thumbs for our chances, but if we don’t win the title, we at least want to get two good wins to finish.

KB: How big a blow is it for the All Blacks that Sonny Bill Williams is not available?
JdV: He’s a quality player and he brought a lot of confidence and skill to their midfield, on an individual basis. But Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith have been a partnership that has served them well for several years, they were probably the outstanding centre combination in world rugby.

KB: What have Argentina brought to the competition?
JdV: They’ve showed that they’re going to be great for the competition. They bring a new feeling, a bit of freshness to the tournament. They’ve been really good, they’ve definitely shown that they belong and we’ll wait and see how New Zealand and Australia do over there.

KB: Is there any chance of you playing in France at some stage in the future?
JdV: Never say never! If a good offer comes … I’ve always said I’d love to play professional rugby in France, just to be a part of the culture and experience the passion for the game there.


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