The Proteas gathered a relatively straightforward win over the Springboks in a sold-out spectacle in Cape Town earlier this year, but will face a substantially tougher rematch in Johannesburg this week. Five rugby players, buoyed by relatively successful individual performances in January, will target more of the same some 11 months later.
1. Willem Alberts
Alberts was deployed as a first-change bowler in the Newlands showcase, after new-ball pair Fabian Juries and Flip van der Merwe failed to force an early breakthrough. The bulky flanker quickly obliged, ensuring the young Quinton de Kock holed out in the deep and the dangerous Henry Davids perished to square-leg for a first-ball duck. An historic hat-trick eluded Alberts, though, as the resolute Faf du Plessis successfully defended the final delivery of the over.
2. Duane Vermeulen
Snubbed for 2014’s South African Sports Star of the Year and IRB Player of the Year awards, modest consolation beckons Vermeulen at Newlands, where the athletic loose forward’s status as a burgeoning all-rounder will be on display again. He clinched the key wicket of the veteran Jacques Kallis last time – and struck seamer Wayne Parnell for a big six.
3. Victor Matfield
The rock of the scrum and, arguably more importantly, the top order, Matfield’s prowess as a right-handed opening batsman will be genuinely tested against an attack spearheaded by pace ace Dale Steyn – and complemented by left-armer Lonwabo Tsotsobe. Towering above all and sundry in a lineout is considerably less taxing than copping a short ball from Steyn to the ribs.
4. Flip van der Merwe
Tasked with managing the team this week, amid a gradual recovery from injury, van der Merwe will take the experience gained as an opening bowler and middle-order batsman against the Proteas earlier this year into the back-rooms this week. Having kept Kallis reasonably quiet with the ball and defied the in-form Ryan McLaren and company with the ball, the lanky lock’s insight will prove invaluable.
5. Butch James
James bowled a solitary, ineffective over – and didn’t manage much with the willow – in January. T20I skipper Faf du Plessis, however, won’t be around to trouble the flyhalf this time. James, too, won’t have to bowl to the sidelined AB de Villiers. Plenty, then, bodes well for a man eager to reap playful revenge on Durbanite David Miller and others.