Bismarck, Frans won’t be missed

Stephen Nell

Prior to Frans Steyn and Bismarck du Plessis withdrawing from the Springbok squad, this was going to be a column about coach Rassie Erasmus potentially looking to yesterday’s men to solve today’s problems.

Many South African fans are of the opinion that the Boks desperately needed Du Plessis for some fire in the belly of the tight five. I’m not so sure. Du Plessis is 34 and, like the 31-year-old Steyn, plays in the French Top 14 where the rugby is of average standard.

To think this would have been the Du Plessis that smashed international opponents out of his way and have a telling impact at the breakdowns was thinking of him in terms of the player he was in his heyday. He is past that.

As for Steyn, there is often some kind of issue about him. He’s previously even had to take time out to consider his international playing future and, quite frankly, it’s time to put him to bed as an option for the Boks. There would be no justification to pick Steyn at inside centre over either Damian de Allende or André Esterhuizen.

Du Plessis and Steyn are good players, for sure, but there are question marks. The veteran hooker was involved in a bust-up with a Montpellier-teammate earlier this year, and the concern with Steyn comes down to his desire to play Test rugby. The signals from him have been mixed and the last time he really excited me as a Springbok was in 2009, which is many moons ago.

Desire, impact on team spirit and actual output are all issues that come to mind when considering these two veterans, admittedly icons of South African rugby in the modern era.

At the advanced stage of their playing careers, they should be making decisions based on where their bread is buttered. Can anyone say beyond doubt that Bismarck will push through to next year’s World Cup in Japan? No. Can he enjoy another three years in the French league for a guaranteed big salary? Yes.

It is a fact that South Africa does not boast outstanding hookers in the absence of Malcolm Marx. However, there also comes a time when you have to give players a chance to reach the next level. Some flourish once they have a decent taste of Test rugby and who knows what Bongi Mbonambi might be able to achieve given the opportunity.

Akker van der Merwe has been exciting in Super Rugby and while I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of Chiliboy Ralepelle, he was one of those who stood up against Wales in Washington at the weekend.

The above may not inspire confidence that they’ll overwhelm England, and they won’t reach the same heights as Bismarck in his prime, but they do deserve an opportunity.

Esterhuizen, for his part, performed impressively on attack when given the chance against Wales. But perhaps Rassie likes an inside centre that adds to the Boks’ kicking game, and De Allende is apparently an accomplished kicker of the ball. I say apparently because we seldom see him use the skill at the Stormers – Robbie Fleck has been encouraging De Allende to give expression to his full skills set, but he’s not there yet. Maybe Rassie can coax it out of him.

That leaves Duane Vermeulen, Faf de Klerk and Willie le Roux as the other overseas-based players in the Bok squad and it will be interesting to see how they go. In the mind-boggling absence of any exceptional local candidates, there is much hope that De Klerk will be able to deliver at scrumhalf. He had a good season with the Sale Sharks in England, but let’s see whether that applies in the Test arena.

Le Roux is probably the best option South Africa have at fullback, but whether he will turn out to be Rassie’s cup of tea in the long term remains to be seen. There is an element of risk about Le Roux and, in my experience, Rassie sticks to a structured and conservative approach with an emphasis on establishing a watertight defence.

Let me hasten to add that conservatism is hardly a sin. The best route is always the one that leads to getting one more point that your opponent. There is no warm, fuzzy feeling in defeat.

As for Duane, he swopped South Africa for France with the reputation as one of the best No 8’s in world rugby. We will soon see whether he’s still playing at that level.

What I like most about Vermeulen’s recall is that his contract at Toulon has run out and he’s consequently not beholden to a French club owner – a species known to put pressure on players to sidestep international rugby in order to protect their investments…

- Stephen Nell

Let's chat

  • Ngcebo

    Not too sure about Bismarck not adding much to the team, as for Steyn I agree. I think we have enough young promising centers here in SA, take the sharks pair for example. Nice article anyway

  • Sharky

    I hear what you’re saying, but I would still love to have seen both Bissie and Steyn in the mix. Bissie as a stop-gap until Marx is fit (Akker is the only hooker currently in the squad that impresses me). Steyn as a specialist inside center who can kick a mile and has experience sorely lacking in the Bok backline. Basically he’d help take some kicking and decision-making pressure off Pollard and free him up a bit. I’m still not convinced by DDA who blows hot and cold (mostly cold for the Boks).

    My top 3 centers would be Am, Steyn and Esterhuizen – experience and exciting youth. I reckon those three would sure up our midfield nicely! On the sidelines there’s also Venter, Voster, Janse van Rensburg, Mapoe and Kriel. For me DDA would fit somewhere in that pack.

    Is Serfontein totally out of the picture now?

    • John Comyn

      Spoken like a true Shark -Bissie, Akker, Am, Esterhuizen, Steyn!!!!! Are there any other Sharks you forgot to mention Sharkie :-)

      • Sharky

        LOL!! To be honest I hadn’t even noticed that. But ja, let’s just make all the Sharks Boks ;p

  • Simnikiwe.xabanisa Xabanisa

    Well said, Steve, echoed similar sentiments elsewhere myself.

  • Mike Stoop

    What happenned to “If you are good enougn you are old enough and if you are good enough you are young enough”. Generally, if you are the best currently available, you deserve to be in the team. Bismarck is, even at his advanced age, definitely better than the Sharks’ no. 3 hooker. And suddenly, a bust-up with a team mate, for which he has not been sanctioned by his club, is a reason to question his ability, or is it his commitment, or why the hell bring it up in the context of the article? Why is it a question mark in this context?

    We are playing without a fetcher, again. Previously the ommission was justified against the ability of Marx to turn over ball. Who is going to do that now? Mr. 35-caps-of-ten-minutes-each-as-a-swinger-prop Nyakane? Vunipola is going to put him under so much pressure in his position as tighthead, that he will be hard pressed to get to a ruck. One place where the English are vulnerable is in the scrum. So what does SA do. Pick the second best loosehead to start and the fourth tightheads to start. To top it they pick the smallest hooker and the lightest thighthead lock to start. Result: advantage lost.

    Bismarck will definitely be missed on Saturday, but so will a 120 kg lock and a real tighthead.

    • John Comyn

      Bongi gets a bum rap. The guy has never let a team down. He is no shrinking violet and his work ethic is outstanding. His line throwing has improved 110% and his scrummaging is as good as any. Sure he is not Malcolm Marx but still he is a very good hooker.

      • Mike Stoop

        Please note, i rate Nyakane, both as a player and as a loosehead prop. I would rate him as probably the third best behind Kitshoff and Beast. He is just not the finished article as a tighthead. A few super rugby games where you hold your own or even dominate in a couple does not make you an international tighthead. Same goes for Thomas du Toit. Neither should be in this Springbok group as tightheads. Dreyer, for all his failings is a better option than either. But if Proudfoot is the man who is supposed to explain this to Rassie, I am afraid Rassie will never understand that as far as tighthead goes, stability trumps mobility.

      • Mike Stoop

        I’m not saying Bongi will not play as well as he can and give any less than 110%. He is just….small. 100 kg v. 116 kg. We lost an advantage with both Marx and Bismarck unavailable. The best hooker for this situation would probably have been Robbie Coetzee. He can scrum. But if you are not picking a scrumming tighthead or a heavy lock, why bother with a scrumming hooker? Bongi will do his job well. I am just worried about the things he can’t do, like win turnovers, catch the ball, dominate physically and run over people.

  • John Comyn

    I was not aware The French Top 14 was of average standard. Nevertheless we don’t know what Rassie’s thinking was when he decided to bring them into the mix. He is nobodies fool so my guess is he had something in mind. These games are going to be down to the wire and will be won or lost in the last quarter. Perhaps Rassie wanted cool heads (experience) on the park at the death. Who better than Steyn? We saw what happened last week!!!

  • Andre Fourie

    We must still find out where we are in current rugby rankings. Forget our current position. Let’s see what this crop of boks does. What happened to our baby boks in the scrum, might just happen to the boks. Our attack with DDD is just to flimsy, and he is not tgat good on defense either. Esterhuizen should have played as a combination with Am, as they do well. My prediction…..we will have to play hard to win. No chance of hiding behind nothing or nobody for Rassie Saturday.

  • Nick.

    So, these two get ‘signed off’ by the French authorities, [meaning they are healthy and not injured] show up here at different times, so far so good,……Train a bit , and ONLY LATER are determined ‘injured’….???? Unless somebody can correct me here I understand this is what happened.

    Naah, They are not ‘injured’, I think they simply failed the fitness tests. Which is the same thing really. Anybody knows French club rugby is brutal and populated by giants, but slooowwwww…..

    These two are simply full of all the lekker French food and vino. Fransie looks like he could play prop nowadays. Bismark is 34…… Good for you boys, enjoy life, wear a beret and striped shirt with lines of onions around your necks, Smoke a few Gauloises, stuff those Euros in your pockets, but you can’t have it all.

    I think Rassie may have had to make an executive decision.

    • Mike Stoop

      I think you have this wrong. They were withdrawn by the French because of “niggles”. In the end it wasn’t up to Rassie. He doesn’t pay their monthly salaries.

  • Jamii

    Best we not forget that Os de Rand came out of retirement to bring more than tested experience, passion, skill and BMT to the Jake White era but the presence of great stature to lead and inspire developing players.

  • Barry Smith

    I have no doubt Eddie Jones celebrated the news! They both have X factor and a certain gritty-ness that will not fall prey to English bossing. They would make my team sheet!

  • Tommie Cato

    I am concerned with the lack of an genuine fetcher in the Bok team. The other Southern hemisphere big guns have fetchers, in fact Aus will be starting with 2…..where is the Bok fetcher….more to the point, who can be the Bok fetcher?

  • Dean

    They are playing some of their best rugby for Montpellier. Montpellier averaged 4 tries per game this season. Your statement that the French Top 14 is average is based on no facts. Wait, didn’t the French juniors just klap the Boks recently. They must be doing something right. Toulon have won the European Cup 3 times out of the last 6. In those last 6, they have had finalists every year. That is a Cup that includes the best club teams from all of Europe. It’s very competitive.

    You prefer locally based players but our Super rugby teams on a log that is a true reflection, would be 4th (2 teams with games in hand who could surpass the Lions), 9th, 10th and 12th. Frans Steyn and Bismarck playing with half their form offer more than any of the current available hookers and centers.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Dean, two teams could overtake the Lions with a game in hand ? Ever hear about points in the bank ? Cheers.

  • Brom Ponie

    “He [Bismarck] is past that.”
    Umm, and Beast? At 32 years old, how’s he coping? He may be doing better now than last year, but I highly doubt many/any would place him above Steven Kitshoff.
    The truth is, with Malcolm Marx out, we need some taai beef up front… Many of our dominant forwards are out – Eben Etzebeth, Marx, Jaco Kriel, etc. Especially at hooker – we’re thin at current, with our only real options being Bismarck and Akker. Why rub off such a legend when the position is vacant?

    With regards to Steyn, yeah he’s fine where he is now. We’ve got more worthy youngsters in the forms of Andre Esterhuizen, Damian de Allende and Rohan Jansen van Rensburg.

  • Jay

    “. But perhaps Rassie likes an inside centre that adds to the Boks’ kicking game, and De Allende is apparently an accomplished kicker of the ball.”

    If this were the case, he would be going with Esterhuizen. The guy boots the ball a mile and with the left foot which would add extra options next to Handre. Would love to see him and Am given time to settle as the Boks centre pair.

  • minging

    Yet all three of WLR, Vermeulen and Faf showed exactly what the Northern Hemisphere have given them. Without them that game would have been lost. Bismarck is still playing some of the best rugby in his glory days and would have been a shoe-in if he hadn’t clearly decided not to come back (nobody’s buying the injury shroud of mystery). Your argument becomes even more moot once you’ve seen Rassie bring the 37 year old Brits back into the squad.

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