With veteran Duane Vermeulen set to miss the Rugby Championship, the AOR team debates who should claim the Springbok No 8 jersey.
Tank Lanning – Warren Whiteley
Vermeulen was monumental for the Boks against England. More than a game changer, he was a key component in a complete regime change.
As a package, he is simply irreplaceable, so looking ahead to the World Cup in Japan next year, having Vermeulen fit and available is a non-negotiable for Rassie Erasmus.
It also means that in the interim, the Boks need to box clever, with a view to having a plan in place should Vermeulen not be available, for whatever reason.
Warren Whiteley at No 8 is the obvious first port of call. Not only was he the incumbent Bok skipper, but also one of the very few shining lights to emerge during the Harry Crocker seasons of Allister Coetzee’s term.
I understand that one buys a dog if loyalty is desired, but out of sheer politeness, Whiteley deserves a shot at the No 8 jersey in the newly-created environment. I mean, even Elton Jantjies got a chance to prove us wrong.
Should Whiteley fail, then he will rightly be gone. But until then, I would employ him as the 8th man in the existing trio with Siya Kolisi (playing closer to the ball), Jean-Luc Du Preez and Pieter-Steph du Toit.
Should that not work out, Erasmus could try a ball-hawk like Francois Louw or Marco van Staden at 6, with Kolisi playing a more roving role at 7.
The bottom line is that there is no like-for-like replacement for Vermeulen, so some sort of tweak to the side’s balance will have to be made – as was done to accommodate Kolisi, and that seems to have worked out pretty well.
Whiteley will add value as both a player and leader.
Zelím Nel – Jean-Luc du Preez
Rugby is arguably the nearest thing to war without live ammunition, and superior firepower wins a firefight.
A fan-favourite and reportedly the best leader since Lt Dick Winters, Warren Whiteley is more Air Force than Infantry.
Conversely, you’d need a can-opener to get Vermeulen into the cockpit of an F-16, and his epic contribution to South Africa’s series-victory against England came in the form of momentum-shifting tackles, carries and breakdown steals.
The return to fitness of the magnificent Malcolm Marx will add a big hammer to the pack’s Rugby Championship toolbag – potent in the tackle-fight, the hooker also leads Super Rugby with 15 turnovers won.
However, Marx cannot assume Vermeulen’s duties from the middle of the front row. The Boks need a like-for-like replacement at No 8, and Jean-Luc du Preez is the closest bet.
A heavy-hitter in the tackle fight, the Sharks thumper has good feet for a big rig and tops the Super Rugby list for offloads. If he matches that appetite for attack with consistent output on defence, the Boks will be in a position to plant their flag on the gain-line.
While the shortlist to fill the subsequent vacancy in the squad could include everyone from Gloucester’s Ruan Ackermann, to Bulls blindsider Thembelani Bholi, Stormers tall timber Cobus Wiese and Dan du Preez, the ideal candidate is 2017 World Rugby U20 MVP, Juarno Augustus.
This season, while working his way back from back and groin injuries in the Supersport Challenge, the hard-running Western Province No 8 has biffed opponents out of their boots like Obelix.
It’s a frightening admission that, with the possible exception of Hanro Liebenberg, none of South Africa’s loose forward options play with the itchy knuckles that make Vermeulen such a violent threat and psychological asset.
But the good news is that, when his eyes finally do go black, Du Preez has the physical tools to emerge as an enforcer. Whiteley does not.
You’ve heard what they’ve had to say, now where do you stand in the Big Debate?