South Africa kick off their end of the year tour against world rugby’s most cherished and prestigious invitational side, the Barbarians. Baa-baa’s current coach Robbie Dean’s has assembled a handy looking squad which includes mercurial Free State Cheetahs man Clayton Blommetjies as well as the Golden Lions forward foursome of Akker van der Merve, Ruan Ackermann, Martin Muller and Kwagga Smith. While Dean's opposite number, Allister Coetzee, is missing a plethora of overseas-based front liners due to the game being played outside the IRB’s international window.
So will this inexperienced ‘Bok side end the Barbarians recent dominance over South Africa or will Robbie Deans and his globe trotters’ run out victors at Wembley?
South Africa v Barbarians | Saturday 5 November | Wembley Stadium | 17:20
To Win (80 Mins)
South Africa 2/1| Draw 20/1 | Barbarians 6/10
South Africa | Barbarians
*Handicap To Be Added Upon Release
I was extremely excited when I saw the Springbok squad to take on the Barbarians. The biggest cause for my enthusiasm was the naming of both Cheetahs skipper Francois Venter and Lions inside centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg. 2016 may have seen a lot of on field and off field issues for South African rugby, but for my money, one of the biggest contributors to the Springboks' 2016 failures has been the lack of a quality centre pairing.
There is no doubt that Damian de Allende is a big talent. And one cannot overlook Lionel Mapoe simply based on a handful of appearances. But here’s the thing with both of the aforementioned men - and for every Springbok centre combination that’s been tried this year, for that matter – they simply don’t function as a pairing. That’s what excites me about this possible Van Rensburg/Venter combo – they seem tailor made for each other. The power these two men offer in the midfield – both on defence and attack - may well be worth investing in, long term.
While we will only find out what Coetzee will do with his midfield when he makes his team announcement on Thursday afternoon, the Springbok mentor has already confirmed that Patrick Lambie will be the man inside the two centres. The Sharks skipper and Springbok captain for the weekend, is likely to don the flyhalf jersey for the remainder of the year after Elton Janjties’ struggled in the Rugby Championship. That’s not to say that Janjties, who misses out due to club commitments, won’t get a run on this tour. I actually fully expect to see the Lions pivot and South African Super Rugby Player of the Year, get the final twenty minutes in all of the remaining Outbound Tour fixtures.
It is also worth noting that a further two of the Cheetahs Currie Cup stars have been called up to the squad in the shape of flying winger Sergeal Petersen and hard as nails flanker Uzair Cassim. While the former is almost guaranteed a start due to Habana and Petersen being on club duty, the latter will have to see off competition from Sharks youngster Daniel du Preez and Cheetahs teammate Oupa Mahoje.
The question one has to ask though, will Coetzee give these new additions to his squad a go? I hate to say this, but I reckon he won’t and that could well be the reason the Springboks lose this one.
Both Damian de Allende and Jessie Kriel are in the squad and I can see Coetzee opting to try and play them into form rather than trying a new combination. I think he will also be rather conservative with his pack and opt to go with Oupa Mahoje and Nizaam Carr on the flank and then one of the new boys at eight or shift Carr to the tail of the scrum and play Roelof Smith on the flank.
There will be a change in the second row however with Lood de Jager suspended and Eben Etzebeth also on club duty in Japan. The man who is likely to join the impressive Pieter-Steph du Toit in the second row is Bulls lock RG Snyman. The Bulls man enjoyed a stellar Currie Cup and really does deserve a bash in the Springbok jumper.
This is probably going to be my favourite segment of writing until next year’s British and Irish Lions Tour of New Zealand. I do apologise if I digress from the actual betting topic somewhat, but to me, analysing a Barbarians side is like being a kid in a candy store; every option is tantalising. And Barbarians coach Robbie ‘Dingo’ Deans certainly has some mouth-watering combinations at his disposal for this game against the ‘Boks.
Let us start with the New Zealanders who have received an invite to wear the coveted black and white. While all nine of the Kiwis in the squad are likely to feature, the two players that are going to be central to Deans side’s chances this coming Saturday will be the Canterbury Crusaders half-back pairing of Andy Ellis and Richie Mo’unga.
The former is a wily old veteran who, in the great tradition of scrum halves, has a proper motor mouth. Despite this game falling into the friendly category and no Test caps being awarded, you can bet your bottom dollar that Ellis will be in the referee’s ear for the majority of proceedings. While the later really caught the eye during the Crusaders’ Super Rugby campaign with his ability to hit the line and jink his way through defences.
There are a further two Crusaders men in the squad with Fijian Seta Tamivalu and All Black hopeful Jordan Tafua receiving invites. Tafua, like Mo’unga, enjoyed a breakthrough Super Rugby campaign and will be relishing the chance to stake a claim for national honours. He is likely to join Luke Whitelock and Brad Shields in a formidable looking back row that will only get stronger as the match goes on with the Golden Lions duo of Kwagga Smith and Ruan Ackerman likely to provide fresh legs in the second stanza.
Speaking of the South African contingent, Cheetahs fullback Clayton Blommetjies is likely to feature in the 15 jersey this Saturday. The Free State man was immaculate during the Currie Cup and his intricate knowledge of Sergeal Petersen’s game may well allow him to exploit his Free State Cheetahs teammate's positional susceptibility.
Another potential provincial teammate versus teammate battle that could take place this weekend may be between Malcolm Marx and Akker van der Merve. While neither man is guaranteed a start, both should at least get half an hour out on the pitch.
The aforementioned Van der Merve may bring some explosive running to the fold but the man who’s set a light to Wembley is Auckland Blues flyer, Tevita Li. The rangy winger/fullback is coming into this one off the back of a stellar Mitre 10 Cup and is regarded as one of the most promising young backs in New Zealand. If the Springboks give this man an inch on Saturday, you can expect Li to take full advantage of it.
The Stats That Matter
On to the statistics now and they really don’t make happy reading for ‘Bok fans. The Barbarians have won four of the seven matches between the duo and have won the last two clashes by more than five points – 22-5 (2007) and 26-20 (2010). South Africa last got one over this opposition in 2000 where they ran out 41-31 victors in the highest-scoring game between the two sides.
While the Barbarians brand is often associated with high-scoring affairs, they haven’t really been able to put a huge points tally on the board against the ‘Boks. The Baa-baas average score in the last three games against the ‘Boks sits at 23 while the South Africans have only averaged 22 points per game.
Verdict: Barbarians 2/1