Is Mohoje set up for a fall?

26 September 2014 - 02:19 By Simnikiwe Xabanisa

Headaches are an occupational hazard that probably explain why he gets paid the big bucks, but sometimes you can't help but feel for Heyneke Meyer.

Having succumbed to (justified) political pressure by finally selecting Oupa Mohoje to start his first Test, the Springbok coach will be surprised to learn his public has lingering doubts over whether it's the right call on two fronts.

At a rugby level, most are asking if Mohoje shouldn't be starting the game from the bench rather, given that he's been carrying tackling bags for 10 weeks.

It is also for the very same reasons that black rugby supporters cynically suspect that the whole thing is an elaborate stitch-up as retaliation to the pressure Meyer has been put under.

Mohoje has not played since doing duty for the Cheetahs in the Super rugby match against the Lions in July. Since then he has been spotted more in Springbok advertising campaigns than on the field.

Yet the Bok management did not release him to shake some of that rust off with the Cheetahs last weekend despite the fact that they suspected he might be pressed into service.

Now the biggest game of his career, the must-win affair against Australia in Cape Town on Saturday, will come with that kind of baggage in the back of his head.

That's why a lot of people think the move has the hallmarks of a set-up.

The rugby reasons for including Mohoje in the starting lineup aren't that overwhelmingly convincing either.

There is merit in the argument that, because Schalk Burger covers all three loose-forward positions, his versatility makes him a candidate for the bench.

Also, given that the Boks' last two games were narrow defeats, the thinking might be that they will need experienced heads at the death.

But if you were to pick an impact player between Mohoje and Burger who would you go for?

The explosiveness and power that saw Mohoje break the tackle of two Crusaders players, not to mention the pace which saw him outstrip Israel Dagg for pace in the same game in Super rugby, makes him the ideal guy to help open up the game.

Burger, on the other hand, is an ageing loosie, whose body has been ravaged by injuries in that time.

He has also started most of the games he has played in his career, whereas Mohoje has mostly come off the bench in his short Super rugby career.

There is also the small matter of not knowing what quality of Burger we are getting from the Japanese club scene.

Some of the players (Peter Grant and Ryan Kankowski) have come back from there so lethargic they appear to have been at the sake the whole time, while the sushi diet appears to agree with others (Fourie du Preez), so sharp was their performance.

For all of that, Mohoje must not overlook one very important thing: this is still an opportunity.

It may not have come wrapped as a birthday present and Christmas gift rolled into one, but it is a chance.

This is what he has wanted his whole career, so there's no point whining about the circumstances under which he is getting it.

Of course, all of this would have been mere conjecture had Meyer been open about his thoughts on Mohoje, instead of sending out mixed messages with the selections of Juan Smith and Warren Whiteley ahead of him.

South African rugby coaches need to stop trying to be clever in explaining the selection or non-selection of black players.

Not only does it not protect the players, it's also patronising and disingenuous.