The Rugby Championship log reminds me of horse racing. The winner appears to have an unassailable lead, while two of the also-rans will fight it out for the second spot.
New Zealand is on 16 points, 6 clear of South Africa and Australia, and with two matches remaining, are unlikely to be overhauled, despite the fact that these are away games.
South Africa must be the favourites to finish as runners-up, despite facing the Wallabies and All Blacks at home. The two Australasian sides have a fair bit of travelling to do, which will impact on their performance when they face us and Argentina at home.
Choose your weapons
The biggest challenge facing the Springboks must be the growing list of injured players.
Schalk Burger’s recall in the absence of Francois Louw is a big bonus for Heyneke Meyer in terms of experience and attitude. He can basically cover any of the loose forward positions and is an additional option in the line-outs. This suggests that he may be picked as an impact player. Warren Whitely and Oupa Mohoje (pictured above) have been in the squad for some time now, and should be given a starting line-up opportunity.
Both of these players bring different skills to the party. If Oupa is selected, he can possibly fill the huge gap left by the injury of Willem Alberts. Heyneke regards him as a strong ball carrier as well as an excellent option at the back of the line-out, while Whiteley’s linking skills could be important if the plan is to play open rugby. It seems, then, that the intended game plan will determine who gets picked.
I have still not made peace with the option of not replacing the injured Ruan Pienaar with a third scrumhalf. Again, it appears that, quite rightly, the game plan will determine who gets picked, but the current number one choice has failed to inspire over-confidence in his kicking ability. If he plays his natural sniping game, Hougaard can be as lethal as any other contender, but to stifle this, nullifies his value to the side. It would make more sense to select the in-form Cobus Reinach, with Sarel Pretorius as impact player on the bench. There are more than enough options for possible wing replacements, which is one of the reasons why Hougaard is often on the bench.
The number nine choice influences the whole backline, as was so abundantly evident when Fourie du Preez returned. He had the same players outside of him, but suddenly they became much more of a threat than before.
And so to Newlands
My selections in the Superbru Pool must make it abundantly clear that my passion mostly overrules my common sense. This is also how I feel about the match at Newlands next weekend. I would really like to see the Springboks do to the Wallabies what the All Blacks did to them after the draw in Australia.
Not only will it be sweet revenge for losing in Australia, it will also be an excellent springboard for the clash against the All Blacks the following weekend. Having come so close in their last match, the Springboks must win this one to prove to themselves, rather than the rest of the rugby world, that they can beat the Kiwis.
The previous All Black coach, Graham Henry, suggested that it might be a good thing for New Zealand to lose a match before next year’s Rugby World Cup in England. I can think of no other team with a better chance than the Springboks at Ellis Park on 4 October.