Springboks' loose-forward balance crucial to Rugby Championship campaign

Warren Whiteley skippered the Lions during the Super Rugby final Phil Walter/Getty Images

DURBAN -- Getting the balance right in the loose-forward department in the absence of the influential Duane Vermeulen is going to be one of Rassie Erasmus' big challenges in the upcoming Rugby Championship.

The No. 8 is a big part of the Springbok team, and they are going to miss his power from the back of the scrum and his unique ability to steal ball at the breakdown for a man of his size.

The Boks will field two new -- but familiar -- faces in the back row for Saturday's Rugby Championship opener against Argentina at Durban's Kings Park, after Vermeulen asked to sit out the southern hemisphere tournament.

Lions No. 8 Warren Whiteley, who captained the team against France last year, is back in the squad and is expected to start at the back of the scrum. Also back in the mix is veteran Bath flanker Francois Louw and he should pack down at flank next to current captain Siya Kolisi.

Whiteley is a different player to Vermeulen, as he doesn't bulldoze opponents or win as many balls at the breakdown. But he brings a more dynamic package to the party, as pace, skill, link play and work rate are his strengths.

Louw is likely to wear the No 6 jersey, and will play the role of the fetcher, which will free Kolisi up for his preferred blindside position and allow him to make a lot more carries and play with ball in hand.

The 33-year-old Louw, for one, is excited at the prospect of this loose-forward combination, and looking forward to playing with Whiteley and captain Kolisi.

"Having played with Siya before, I know he can be immensely physical. We play quite a different sort of game. Personally, I think he's a bit more of a ball carrier, but he's also got pace and a big presence on defence. I'm more breakdown-focused, and perhaps play a bit tighter," Louw told reporters at the Boks' Durban hotel on Tuesday.

"Warren is a fantastic player, and offers a great lineout option. I guess you could also say he's a back trapped in a forward's body. He links between the forwards and backs really well, he's good in the outside channels and really gets all over the park. Warren has an immense work rate, and pitches up every time to give an 80-minute performance."

But Erasmus also has rookie back rowers Marco van Staden and Cyle Brink champing at the bit after two very good Super Rugby campaigns.

Brink is a top, physical ball carrier who was impressive in the Lions' run to the final, while Van Staden will certainly see some game-time in the Rugby Championship following his excellent play as a scavenger for the Bulls.

Louw has been impressed by the young guns and is confident that their chance in the green and gold will come.

"It's quite a favourable position to find yourself in, to have so much depth. What Rassie has created with the rest of the coaches in June drives excellence, because the guys are pushing hard to get places in the side.

"The boys [Brink and Van Staden] are hungry to play. They don't really step back. I had a few training sessions now and they are keen to learn," Louw said.