Series decider between Kiwis and Pakistan a toss-up
SOUTH African rugby fans and Heyneke Meyer should view Jannie du Plessis’ hamstring injury, which has again ruled him out of this weekend’s Test against Wales, as a blessing in disguise.
Some are saying it is a major blow to the Boks’ chances of finishing their patchy European tour with a win, but Du Plessis sitting out is hardly a bad thing.
The Sharks prop has played virtually non-stop for years now – can anyone remember when last he missed two games in succession because of injury? – and the two weeks off on this tour, to go with the time he had off in the latter stages of the Currie Cup, will benefit him and the Boks in the long run.
And the good news is, following the Italy Test, Trevor Nyakane and Coenie Oosthuizen showed they are good enough to prop up the Bok scrum should anything happen to Du Plessis at next year’s World Cup.
Meyer needed to see the back-up men in action on this tour, something he’s now done, and he’ll certainly be pleased with what he’s witnessed.
Even if Du Plessis was fit, it would have done no harm for Nyakane and Oosthuizen to have another go this Saturday. Perhaps they will get another chance anyway.
Oosthuizen is almost sure to start at tighthead again now, but Julian Redelinghuys could also come into the equation and even Ruan Dreyer.
It’s also not a bad thing that none of the overseas-based Boks are available to play against Wales.
It’s sure to be among the stiffest of the Boks’ Tests on tour, coming at the end of a gruelling and energy-sapping four weeks, but it’ll show just how deep they can dig, what sort of character they’re made of – which is something Meyer often talks about.
With no Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen, Schalk Burger and the now retired Bakkies Botha to call on, the Boks will not have as strong a bench as in previous clashes, while the starting team will not nearly have as much experience as Meyer would like. But the match will afford the Bok boss to see a slightly newlook outfit in action, with a player like Lwazi Mvovo coming in, and hopefully injecting some energy into the performance.
Nizaam Carr, who made his debut off the bench last weekend, would also add some zip to the loose-trio.
Playing him at No8 in place of Duane Vermeulen, who must be running on fumes at this stage, would not be a bad call.
The Boks look a tired bunch at the moment – they’ve hardly hit their straps on tour – and bringing in some new faces may just be what they need to end on a high. SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates: Rival captains Misbah-ul Haq and Brendon McCullum hope to win the toss and enjoy a kick-start to the series-deciding third Test between Pakistan and New Zealand starting in Sharjah tomorrow.
Pakistan piled up 566/3 in the first Test in Abu Dhabi after winning the toss and then spun out New Zealand twice for a comprehensive 248-run win to take a 1-0 lead.
Despite the odds New Zealand staged an impressive comeback in the second Test in Dubai, winning the toss and dictating terms before Pakistan, set a target of 261 on the final day, salvaged a draw to set up an intriguing finale.
Pakistan’s spinners – left-armer Zulfiqar Babar (13 wickets in two Tests) and leggie Yasir Shah (11) – will hold the key.
But McCullum said his team can take confidence from the improved performance in the second Test.
“We would have loved to have won the second Test,” said McCullum.
“But you have to look at what we have done in Dubai, bank the confidence and head to Sharjah knowing that we have an opportunity to win away from home if we play up a little bit up.
“It is satisfying to keep the series alive (after the second Test) and it will give us more confidence, we learned a lot from the (last) game and hopefully we can improve more.”
New Zealand may bolster their batting by bringing in in-form Luke Ronchi for Jimmy Neesham who has struggled with just 39 runs in four innings.
Pakistan missed Mohammad Hafeez’s all-round skills in the second Test as his off-spin provides them the option of a fifth bowler.
He is likely to recover from a hamstring injury which forced him out of the second Test and could replace Taufeeq Umar who flopped in Dubai.
Misbah wants Pakistan to improve their fielding in Sharjah after dropping a number of catches in Dubai.
“I am pretty pleased with the bowling and batting,” said the Pakistan captain.
“In the field we need to take our chances because on these sort of wickets if you miss chances it could be really difficult for the bowlers.
“Full marks to New Zealand. They really improved after the first game. They put us under pressure.”
The two teams also play two Twenty20 matches and five one-day internationals after the Tests.