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Banging the Brüssow drum

The Heyneke Meyer-coached Springboks will enjoy a brief international break before the Rugby Championshp and while the team looked good in patches against England, something still appears to be missing. Could that something be Heinrich Brüssow?

It's no secret that Heyneke Meyer is a fan of big ball-carriers to crash the ball over the gainline and Brüssow doesn't tick all of those boxes, but surely you can still find space for a man of his rare talent?

By all means pick a couple of massive bulldozers to crash forward at blindside and No.8, but please have something a little different at openside to balance the back row!

Following the shock of Brüssow's initial omission from the Bok squad Meyer explained that he felt the Cheetahs flank was too much of a liability for frequently giving away penalties. A fair point, yes, but show me an openside flank who doesn't live on the edge of the law and give away a couple of penalties per match and I'll show you a substandard openside. For an openside flank giving away penalties is simply an occupational hazard.

Looking at the performances of David Pocock, Sam Cane and Ritchie McCaw over the past weekend of Test action should be a concern for the Springboks with the Rugby Championship looming ahead as the next big test. Without a skilled man to compete at the breakdowns things could get ugly for the Boks, and who better than Brüssow?

The man is like the Artful Dodger at the bottom of a ruck and will come away with the prize more often than not. In matches against quality players such as Pocock or McCaw the opposition could secure themselves a wealth of possession leaving the Boks comparatively destitute. This is where Brüssow comes in to play the role of Robin Hood to steal ball from the rich and hand it over to the poor Bok backline to run with.

Having a man who plays to the ball is crucial to getting the upperhand at the breakdown, and while Marcell Coetzee can do the job – and Meyer believes he can develop into a specialist openside over time – he is more suited to playing as a blindside flank at present. The fact that Bismarck du Plessis is also capable of winning turnovers with his upperbody strength should be viewed as a bonus rather than a reason to leave out a genuine fetcher.

The term fetcher is also a little misleading and it has come into popular use with the memorable quotes from Jake White about kids fetching beers when questioned about the absence of a fetcher from one of his Bok teams. It is also worth mentioning here that even White has come to the party by playing a specialist openside at the Brumbies – in the shape of new Wallaby tyro Michael Hooper.

Calling Brüssow a fetcher doesn't really encompass all that is expected of an openside flank and there is a great deal more to it than creating turnovers, as he is also a link man and has a massive role to play in set-pieces and as a ball-carrier. What Brüssow has in his favour is that he is incredibly strong and can rip a ball away from an opponent with his good body position and muscular forearms. His strength means that he is also a good ball-carrier, albeit not in the mould of massive units such as Willem Alberts or Pierre Spies, which seems to be Meyer's preference.

The truth is that Brüssow has also never had a bad game in a Springbok jersey, while could the same be said of Pierre Spies, Morné Steyn or even Bryan Habana? If anything he has been one of the best players on the field every time he's donned the Green & Gold and made a major impact in several big victories.

What will be interesting to note is if/how Brüssow adjusts his game for the remaining Super Rugby matches and if he chooses to hang back in an effort to avoid conceding penalties. However, that could affect his game negatively as it makes him less likely to make a big difference at the breakdown.

This weekend the Cheetahs tackle the Bulls at Loftus and what better opportunity for Brüssow to make a point to the national selectors by wreaking havoc on the ground and snatching a win for his team against a host of Bok incumbents. There are few things more dangerous than a quality player who has been ignored and the Bulls could suffer the Brüssow backlash.

By Timmy Hancox

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