Bench Whiteley

Joshua Brown

Many a South African heart sank at the news that Springbok No 8 Duane Vermeulen will be unavailable for the duration of the 2018 Rugby Championship campaign, putting an end to weeks of rumour and speculation in the media.

The immediate reaction to the news from the general public appeared to be that Warren Whiteley had recovered at the perfect time to slot into Vermeulen’s boots come the start of the four-nation international tournament.

Unfortunately, it’s not as a simple as that.

Vermeulen and Whiteley are vastly different beasts in both size and style, and handing the Bok No 8 jersey to the Lions captain would come at the expense of Siya Kolisi.

Despite competing for different jerseys, the Bok captain is a very similar player to the equally charming and inspirational Whiteley. Both bring significant Super Rugby experience to the table, both have led South Africa to victory in a June series, and neither rank among the biggest loose forwards to have donned the Green and Gold jersey.

What they both lack in brute size and physicality they make up for with plenty of athleticism. Whiteley and Kolisi can play a useful linking role between forwards and backs and they boast surprising pace, footwork and handling skills that pose a threat in the wide channels.

Neither shirk their responsibilities in the physical facets and, as their cumulative tally of 48 Test caps would suggest, they are quality players who both deserve to wear the Bok jersey. But not at the same time.

The three-match Test Series against England was a timely reminder that the Bok backline requires a forward pack that not only holds its own, but dominates the physical exchanges.

While Faf de Klerk is a gifted scrumhalf, he is not – as we saw in the final Test at Newlands — on the same all-round level as the likes of Ireland’s Connor Murray or New Zealand’s Aaron Smith.

De Klerk needs his forwards to give him plenty of go-forward ball and a couple hectares of room in order to showcase his range of skills.

When he has that he is a wonder to behold on the rugby field, but when he doesn’t (as was the case in Cape Town and regularly during the Rugby Championship during his previous outing with the Springboks in 2016) he is significantly less impressive.

A forward pack that has both Whiteley and Kolisi in starting jumpers cannot provide the physical dominance that De Klerk requires. When compared to the 117kg and 193cm frame of Vermeulen, it becomes apparent just how much mass South Africa would lose with Whiteley (108kg, 192cm) at No 8 in a back row that includes Kolisi (102kg, 188cm).

A situation where one starts and the other is unleashed off the bench (much like Sikhumbuzo Nothse was in the English Series) is the best solution.

Kolisi, the incumbent captain, must start with Whiteley making his comeback off the bench.

The Vermeulen gap can be plugged by players such as Jean-Luc du Preez (112kg and 194cm), his brother, Daniel (112kg and 196cm), or even last year’s Junior Springbok star, Juarno Augustus (111kg and 188cm) – all younger and more physical than Whiteley.

Follow Joshua on Twitter: @BalcombBrown

FRESH TAKE is an initiative to identify, feature and develop talented rugby writers who are not yet part of the mainstream media.

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- Joshua Brown

Let's chat

  • Mike

    Interesting how you primarily focus on size, weight and height of your suggested replacements… Skill-levels??

  • Barry Smith

    Agreed, this was my view in earlier posts! It will be interesting to watch how all three play this Saturday! Jean-luc was a little below his usual Titan state against England, though he did not get much game time!

  • Stephen

    Kolisi was only named Captain for the in-coming tour, and in my opinion Whiteley is a better player and Captain, especially if you compare their SR careers. Erasmus says he leaves his generals on the field to “sink or swim”, live with their decisions, but he subbed Kolisi. Kolisi was also subbed in the Lions win over the Stormers. If he was such an inspirational leader he should have stayed on to motivate his team. His stats against England were not impressive, not like in the French series last year. He also was not that effective in the end of the year tour. Erasmus has a political bomb in his hands now. Beef can be added on the flanks, like Jean-Luc or PS Du Toit. Marx and Akkers also provide that.

    • Barry Smith

      You are probably quite right about this, I had a similar opinion. But the unity that this appointment has created, I believe, outways the down side! We have a complex society and one with many adverse views that need to be respected. So a 2 or 3 % loss in capacity on the one hand is probably far out weighed by the additional support that has been gathered!

      • Stephen

        Prior to the England tests, Kolisi admitted his form was poor, but also said that in a meeting with Erasmus, he had been asked to change his style of play and concentrate on other parts of his game. He did not elaborate, but I have a suspicion Erasmus has asked him to play more towards the ball, and not spend so much time linking on the wings. So maybe Erasmus’ plan is for Whiteley to play the linking role with the backs, which he does effectively, and have Kolisi playing more to the rucks and mauls. If Erasmus uses the other heavier flanks he still has the options he needs. Whiteley would also provide the necessary support to Kolisi in the leadership group.

        • Dean

          I think his substitution had more to do with playing almost every minute of every game so far this year.

  • Wesley

    We are so obsessed with size? The skills level is enormous on Whiteley. This isnt a “fresh take” . Its stuck in the backwards era of Springbok rugby.

    • dbaggins

      The author of article is talking about a balanced back row that could potentially give the team as many options as possible….. i.e play expansive and tight.
      Your obsession with everything anti-size, is actually just as predictable in play as having a back row that is all brute force. As the springboks we should always be looking to have the full array available to us. Quick ball which allows players like faf, willie, dyanti, kolisi ect. to really shine requires players like vermeulen, du preez. ect.

      • Wesley

        Power only at 8 still doesnt bring balance to the backrow, even with Vermeulen our backrow wasnt balanced, hence our breakdown seeing its rear end in the wet conditions at Newlands. A proper fetcher is required. He is compairing Whiteley to Kolisi but its more a PSDT and Kolisi being similar with Whiteley being the roamer. How about Louw? Meyer made a big mistake leaving Brussow in the lurch, again the obsession with size being the reason. We havent had a balanced backrow since like 6years ago, flopping between makeshift combinations back and forth. I had so much hope for Kwagga making the step up but again given no chance because of size. How can the opposition even consider going to ground with a proper fetcher and ever lurking Marx ready to pounce. Look at NZ playing Matt Todd, and we looking at trouble come September. No, we rather again advocating size against brains. Again… Sigh

        • Dean

          Whiteley brings that extra lineout option. He is also elusive and quick around the park. It might be exactly what our loose trio needs. They looked like they lacked athleticism and enthusiasm in the final game. Ideally, our loose trio would be Whiteley, Duane and Kolisi IMO. 3 strong leaders and different players. That way you cover the lineout, collisions and the breakdown. Marx doubles as a fetcher. I agree, for the RC I’d bring Francois Louw in. He adds valuable experience too.

  • Barry Smith

    It would seem that Warren is some way off his best, based on Saturdays game. Dan Du Preeze was more apparent by some margin! They still have the Bulls game and playoffs to come before the internationals start, so will be interesting to see what progress there is

    • Wesley

      One game Barry. One game after coming back from a bad and long injury and you already write him off. Come now…

      • Wesley

        Sorry i think my comment wont be taken as tougue in cheek as intended…, :)

    • Greg Shark

      I’d go along with you on that Barry, Dan DuP did show his worth. I’d go further to add that players like Whitely (I really admire his style) bring athleticism to the table combined with a thinking brain. BUT it must be said the a lot of the really big boys in the loose trio are far from cerebrally deficient…..the difference in my opinion is simply athletic appeal!

  • Dean

    Did the Sharks silence Hermie?

    • Greg Shark

      Still chewing the bile! GREAT teams are the ones that soak up the full extent of the opposition pressure, with little possession make full use of their opportunities, outlast them and do to them what they soaked up ….and then WIN!

    • Barry Smith

      It would seem that, Lion sleeps tonight!

  • Nick

    No prob with whitely coming in. Sia been playing to the ball recently anyway. What we need is a proper 7 to glue things together. Vermeulen is a possibility, if he is fit enough in terms of what’s required at 7 compared to his role at 8. Is mostert a better option than psdt? Less flash but more value imo to free whitely and sia up for running roles on the wider channels. Dupreez brothers not there yet. They simply lack a bit of skill and judgement which will hopefully grow with time.

  • Nick

    We desperately need a decent back up at 6. Is notshe seen as the next in line.

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