Cape Town – Stormers fans – and perhaps a few others around Mzansi – expressed their outrage on social media after their favourite No 8, Evan Roos, was again snubbed by the Springbok coaches for Saturday’s Test against France in Marseille (10pm SA time kickoff).
The unhappiness reached boiling point on Friday after it emerged that first-choice No 8 Jasper Wiese had been ruled out of the Stade Velodrome showdown due to concussion.
That could have been the cue for Bok coach Jacques Nienaber to call on the 22-year-old Roos, who made a significant contribution to the Stormers’ United Rugby Championship title charge last season with his dynamic running lines and abrasive nature.
But the Paarl Boys’ High product will remain on just one single Test cap – which he earned against Wales in July – after Kwagga Smith was preferred to replace Wiese, and Stormers veteran Deon Fourie was brought onto the bench.
“I think it is a matter of opinion. For us, Kwagga is also an out-and-out eight, and played really well at eight, and (has) done well for us at eight,” director of rugby Rassie Erasmus said during Friday’s press conference.
“I think throughout his career, when we train, he is definitely our second-choice eight after Jasper. And when Duane (Vermeulen) was involved, it was touch and go, and Kwagga just covered a lot of positions.
“We actually hoped that Jasper would pass the criteria and all the concussion and HIA sets of rules that there are. We are probably one of the first countries who were informed by World Rugby about the new protocol. It was category one, and we were all hoping that he would pass – it looked really good.
“With the change so late, a guy like Deon just makes more sense to us – he knows the French culture, the way they play, he played a lot against them.
“Evan has been with us for a while now, and he deserves a chance somewhere. But I think we must also not forget how well Deon Fourie played, and somebody who has just (four) Test caps and is a realistic option to take to the World Cup next year in both positions (flank and hooker).
“But yes, we did consider Evan as well.”
It is hoped that Roos will get an opportunity against Italy in Genoa next Saturday, but for now, Smith will line up at the back of the scrum.
The ex-Lions star may lack in size (1.80m, 95kg) compared to Roos (1.91m, 109kg), but there is no doubt that the former sevens star won’t die wondering against the French.
The 29-year-old, who has 28 Test caps, thrives on taking the fight to the opposition with his wholehearted carries, while he is a scavenger at the breakdowns as well.
His head-to-head contest with France No 8 Gregory Alldritt will be a contrast in styles, with the latter more in the Duane Vermeulen and Roos mould with his physicality, lineout ability and high work-rate in defence – and he is a specialist at the back of the scrum, unlike Smith, who can play across all three positions in the loose trio.
But with Smith in the starting line-up, the dynamic of the Bok back row does change, and it may result in captain Siya Kolisi and No 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit playing an even more prominent role in defence to allow Smith to roam freely across the pitch to sniff out turnover opportunities.