BOKS HEAD OFF INTO THE GREAT UNKNOWN

A num­ber of ques­tions face the na­tional team ahead of the Rugby Cham­pi­onship

CityPress - - Sport - SIMNIKIWE XABANISA sports@city­press.co.za

The prob­lem with the Spring­boks’ 3-0 se­ries win over a patch­work French team is that the av­er­age South African rugby fan now ex­pects that the team will ride roughshod over Ar­gentina, Aus­tralia and New Zealand in the Rugby Cham­pi­onship.

A more rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tion would be good old-fash­ioned com­pet­i­tive­ness – start­ing with Satur­day’s cam­paign opener against Ar­gentina in Port El­iz­a­beth – af­ter the Boks could only muster two wins in last year’s tour­na­ment. While Guy Novès’ French team at times looked as though they were sleep­walk­ing their way through the se­ries, thanks to an in­ter­minable Top 14 sea­son, the June Boks were char­ac­terised by de­sire (to play and to de­fend), an ad­ven­ture of spirit and a to­geth­er­ness that al­most sucked the rest of us in.

But the Rugby Cham­pi­onship – with the All Blacks smart­ing from not putting away the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Li­ons, the Aus­tralians al­most emerg­ing from a sec­ond pre-sea­son and Ar­gentina not know­ing which Pu­mas will turn up – will ask to­tally dif­fer­ent ques­tions. The team go­ing into the Rugby Cham­pi­onship isn’t quite the same team as the one that played against the French in June, so here are a few ques­tions it will need to an­swer dur­ing the course of the tour­na­ment:

How will they deal with their ab­sent cap­tain?

Li­ons cap­tain and of­fi­cial Bok cap­tain War­ren White­ley has an­other five weeks be­fore he’ll re­cover from his groin in­jury, mean­ing that, by the time he is back, the horse may have bolted.

The prob­lem with White­ley not be­ing there is less about him be­ing the best No 8 in the country and more about him be­ing the quiet driver of the team cul­ture that gave us the in­spi­ra­tional June Boks.

Whether the rest of the lead­ers in the team, led by White­ley’s re­place­ment Eben Etze­beth, can carry on the new-found tra­di­tion is a moot point.

What of the other miss­ing play­ers?

When the squad for the French test se­ries was an­nounced Lukhanyo Am, Ruan Com­brinck and Ro­han Janse van Rens­burg were or would be in­jured.

Jan Ser­fontein em­phat­i­cally re­mind­ing us why he was the World Ju­nior Player of the Year in 2012 means the rusty Janse van Rens­burg is not ur­gently needed.

But quite what Am, whose only sin af­ter his call-up was to frac­ture his eye socket in the last game be­fore camp, did to miss the boat is a mys­tery.

What’s the plan for the new ad­di­tions in the squad?

Full­back War­rick Ge­lant, No 8 Dan du Preez and fly half Cur­win Bosch are the new ad­di­tions.

While all gifted, and one sus­pects Du Preez’s in­clu­sion is thanks more to the paucity of nat­u­ral eighth­men in the team, they come across as young­sters who need time to carry on work­ing on their craft.

Who is Jan­tjies’ backup?

The Bok man­age­ment team may have bought into many of the things that made the Li­ons Su­per Rugby fi­nal­ists two sea­sons in a row, but they’re not quite con­vinced about hav­ing El­ton Jan­tjies as the only fly half in the squad.

Backup is al­ways good, but what ac­tu­ally hap­pens if Jan­tjies gets in­jured or loses form like he did last year?

What’s a good num­ber?

With no­body in their right mind nec­es­sar­ily think­ing the Boks will win this year’s Rugby Cham­pi­onship, what’s a good num­ber of games to win to sig­nify progress from last year’s two wins? Maybe the best-case sce­nario would be win­ning both games against Ar­gentina to ar­rest their re­cent slide of losses against smaller na­tions, a home game against the plucky Aus­tralia and an over­due win at home against the All Blacks.

PHOTO: JACO MARAIS

PEN­E­TRA­TION Spring­bok cap­tain Eben Etze­beth dur­ing the test se­ries against France in June. The Boks take on Ar­gentina in Port El­iz­a­beth on Satur­day

PHOTO: ROGER SEDRES / IMAGESA / GALLO IM­AGES

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