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The contenders: Plenty of Bok beef

With the June Test matches rapidly approaching we have taken a closer look at the candidates for selection from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, starting with the big boys in the front row.

In less than a month’s time the Springboks will run out to contest their first Test match under Heyneke Meyer, and as excited as everyone is about the new beginning there is also a fair amount of confusion around which players the new coach will select.

Meyer has made it clear that he wants to pick the best available side in order to beat England, but has sent out some pretty mixed signals about what his selection priorities are, with a host of experienced overseas-based players apparently in the mix along with the hordes of Super Rugby campaigners who made a big impression on him at the recently concluded national planning camps.

While this scenario may have England boss Stuart Lancaster scratching his head at what to expect next month, it has also left the South African rugby public in a similarly anxious state as debates rage on about who deserves to don the Green and Gold this year.

In a bid to add some fuel to the rampant speculation going on we have decided to look at the different options available before offering our opinion on who should get the nod, and inviting you to add your considered views in the comments section below.

There is certainly no shortage of fearsome front row forwards who are worthy of Springbok honours this year, and as a result there will be quality players who do not get an opportunity.

The depth at loosehead and hooker this year is astounding, so it will be intriguing to see what Meyer prioritises in selection as there are strong arguments to be made for at least three players in each position.

Gurthro Steenkamp is likely to return from action this weekend for Toulouse after yet another injury lay-off, which means that he would have played one week less than Tendai Mtawarira – his main rival for the jersey last year and the most experienced Super Rugby loosehead in South Africa.

Mtawarira looked sharp in his comeback match against the Highlanders last week and his major contenders in the Super Rugby conference look to be the Bulls’ Dean Greyling, Cheetah Coenie Oosthuizen and young Stormer Steven Kitshoff.

Kitshoff has been rock solid this season, but has also been announced in Dawie Theron’s Under-20 squad for the Junior World Championship in June and one can’t help but think that the best way for him to spend the break from Super Rugby is to buckle some guys his own age and continue learning.

At hooker it would seem that the time has finally come for Bismarck du Plessis to take the jersey that many believe was rightfully his some time ago.

However, he is faced with some stiff competition in the form of Cheetahs captain Adriaan Strauss and seasoned Bok bench-warmer Chiliboy Ralapelle, while Tiaan Liebenberg’s abrasive style might also make an impact on the Test stage.

A criticism that Liebenberg suffers is that he is too hot-headed and volatile which makes him unpredictable and liable to costing his team. It is also a factor when considering the cases of the Du Plessis brothers.

Jannie du Plessis has been the Bok tighthead for the last few years and there is no doubt that he is the most experienced candidate but he has shown a tendency to give away his fair share of penalties which some believe makes him an intolerable liability.

Werner Kruger, WP Nel and Pat Cilliers have all produced telling performances for their teams this year and all have a serious claim to be involved in Meyer’s plans but it would be a surprise to see any of them in the match-day 22.

The Springbok starting front row:

1 Tendai Matawarira:
If Steenkamp proves his fitness in the Top 14 then he may miss out, but Mtawarira has the pedigree to handle the English onslaught and consequently edges out his younger rivals.

2 Bismarck du Plessis:
The time has come for him to provide impact from the first whistle, he is one of the most destructive players in the world but also has skills both with the ball in hand and in the tackle, which makes him something of a fourth loose forward.

3 Jannie du Plessis:
His experience will be vital against England, and while he may be under pressure from a couple of younger players his history with the other frontline players means that the front row will be able to function well as a unit without much time together in training with the Boks.

Bench:

16 Adriaan Strauss
His ability to get over the gainline and put the opposition defence under pressure could be invaluable in the dying stages of a Test match and his greater overall consistency gives him an edge over Ralepelle.

17 Coenie Oosthuizen
He may be young but his form cannot be ignored, and although he is relatively inexperienced he could be a devastating impact player while he also has the ability to play on both sides of the scrum, as he was originally a tighthead and even showed he could play the position in the Currie Cup last year.

By Michael de Vries

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