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Who will fire up the Bok engine room?

Our quest to identify the best options available to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand next month continues as we take a look at the different locks in the running for a call-up.

The Springbok second row has been dominated by two giants of the game in recent years, and unless there is an unlikely reunion a new pairing is going to have to fill their hefty boots.

Victor Matfield has been the subject of much speculation this year, but the fact that he has not played any rugby yet would seem to indicate that the idea of his comeback has either been abandoned or was never really being seriously considered.

His faithful companion Bakkies Botha recently played for Toulon in their victory over Toulouse in the Top 14, but has only recently battled back from injury and is probably best left out to stud in the southern France.

The fact that a shock return by Matfield  was ever being considered shows that there is anxiety about the lack of depth in the position, with many contenders lacking either experience or consistency.

One player who might fit the bill is Ulster stalwart Johann Muller who will be playing in the Heineken Cup Final this weekend. A veteran of two World Cup campaigns, he certainly has the experience although the fact that he is close to the end of his career could count against him as well. 

None of the locks from the Lions, Cheetahs or Sharks are likely to feature in the match-day squad, as while players such as Franco van der Merwe and Steven Sykes have impressed at times they have not been convincing enough to step up to Test level.

This means that the serious candidates for the Springbok second row will more than likely be from the Bulls and the Stormers, with the biggest question surrounding the best combination.

Andries Bekker has long been viewed as Matfield’s natural successor, but he has not been available for the Springboks for some time as he always seems to break down ahead of Test season.

He has been impressive for the Stormers again this year, dominating at line-out time and tightening his game up, but the injury bogey has reared its ugly head recently and watching Bekker clutch his lower back towards the end of a match must give Bok coach Heyneke Meyer butterflies in his stomach.

Another option is Juandre Kruger who has stepped into Matfield’s No.5 Bulls jersey admirably this year. He is an athletic player who has shown that he has the power and ball skills to perform at international level, and although he is relatively inexperienced would make an able replacement if Bekker is unavailable.

Meyer’s selection in the No.4 jersey will be particularly interesting as he will have to choose between the unstoppable force that is Eben Etzebeth or the more experienced Flip van der Merwe.

The series against England is not likely to reflect too much about Meyer’s plans for the future, and Van der Merwe’s experience may well see him take the jersey he wore in the Tri-Nations last year, but Etzebeth’s form can surely not be overlooked by a coach who places such a premium on winning and dominating.

Springbok locks:

Starting:

4 Eben Etzebeth:
The young powerhouse has smashed his way through Super Rugby and although he lacks experience he looks set for a long career in the position and has provided a more consistent threat in the position than any of his rivals.

5 Andries Bekker:
His proven and physically-imposing combination with Etzebeth will operate with confidence and he may be able to prove that he deserves the tag of senior player at international level.

Bench:

18 Juandre Kruger:
He has never been capped but is a far more dynamic prospect than the more experienced players and has shown an impressive versatility this year so would be able to cover both positions off the bench.

By Michael de Vries

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