I cannot put my finger on why I’ve avoided writing about the Springboks during this years Rugby Championships. Perhaps it’s because I have felt uninspired by them. Or perhaps, with all due respect to the Pumas, I first wanted to see what they could do against those
wankers chaps from Australasia as the true test of any team is how they perform against the Wallabies and most importantly the All Blacks. This weekend’s result was a tough pill to swallow and whilst it would be far easier to lambaste the team, I wouldn’t consider that to be constructive. Alternatively, I feel there are a few questions which Heyneke Meyer has yet to answer and the fact that these questions are still being asked a year outside of the Rugby World Cup is of a far greater concern than losing by a whisker to an average Wallabies team.
First up, let’s chat about Jannie du Plessis. Whilst he has never been my favourite human being as I feel his attitude stinks to high-hell, he is the only experienced tighthead prop we currently boast within our squad. I appreciate that he is a mammoth of a man and on his day has the potential to play a crucial part to any Springbok effort. His experience is critical and despite our lack of depth in this crucial position, no effort has been made to make sure that Jannie gets a much needed rest. It is clear to see that Jannie is fatigued and is on the verge of a burnout.
Alarm bells should have rung inside Heyneke’s head when Jannie caught a massive beating at the hands of the Argentinians in the first two matches of the Championships. Yes Jannie managed to pull things together – to a degree – this past weekend against a weak Australian tight five, but the fact remains that he is in desperate need of a break. I would suggest that the Australian tight five which Jannie faced this past weekend may have struggled against the current Maties tight five, such was their weakness. Nick Mallet said as much in his post match rant.
The real question of all in this regard is what will happen, should Jannie breakdown before the Rugby World Cup? Who has Heyneke earmarked as the second in line tighthead prop and how much international experience has this player been given in the almost three years that Heyneke has been at the helm of the Springboks for? We’ve fucked around with players like Coenie Oosthuizen, Lourens Adriaanse, Frans Malherbe and Trevor Nyakane and yet a decision has still not been made as to who the incumbent is.
Remember that all World Cup winners have based their team on an animal of a tighthead prop and whilst Jannie has the potential to be this animal, are we going to find ourselves up shit-creek without a paddle should he crash and burn in the next 12 months? I certainly hope that he doesn’t crash and burn, however if he continues to see the same amount of game time the likelihood of him surviving the next year, is slim.
Moving one position to the left, let’s talk hooker. The du Plessis vs Strauss debate rages. Bismarck is an incredible athlete and would walk into any international rugby team without even blinking, whilst Adriaan has proved to be a solid international hooker who does the basics very well. In essence, these two represent two different styles – and essentially two different eras – of hooker with Bismarck the future and Adriaan the past. Both have their pros and cons.
It was clear to see that the Springboks scrum functioned well this past weekend when Adriaan started. As is his game, he hit his jumpers, flew into rucks and scrummed the shit out of the opposition. That was his job on the day and he passed with flying colours. These roles can tend to suffer when Bismarck is on the field as his game encompasses so much more and could be considered more of a hooker-come-flanker than an out-and-out hooker. The fact that he is capable of all this is a testament to the incredible talent that is Bismarck, however do we need that sort of a player? Would you prefer another fetcher behind Flo Louw and Marcel Coetzee or would you like to see our scrum going forward?
I would prefer the latter and whilst I know my opinion is in the minority, I see no problem in bringing Bismarck onto the pitch with 20 minutes to play. Imagine the chaos he could cause with the Springboks in the lead and a forwards pack around him who are filled with confidence because of the 60 minutes of pain they have been unleashing on their opposition.
Moving a few positions back we get to scrumhalf and our dear Ruan Pienaar. Can you believe that despite having played almost 80 Test matches for the Springboks, there are still questions hanging over his head. Surely after this amount of time a decision is made as to whether a player is good enough to play rugby for his country. It seems that Ruan has been afforded many a chance to prove this and has come up short. Why is his service so slow? Why does he have to take one or two steps before passing the ball and why – for fucksake – is his kicking out of hand so average? These duties are part and parcel of playing scrumhalf and if they cannot be performed to a certain level, then the player should be dropped. By all accounts he performs these duties with aplomb in Ireland yet struggles to execute them for the Springboks. There is no shame in admitting that some players are just not good enough to play at the highest level and the fact that Ruan has amassed close to 80 caps, despite being as average as he is, deserves a high-fuckin-five.
I understand that Fourie du Preez is the likely number one scrummie and if it weren’t for injuries and a clause in his contract, he may have played a lot more for the Springboks since 2011, however, despite his genius, is Fourie the man for the future? Is he the person to take us beyond 2015? Would young players such as Cobus Reinach, Louis Schreuder or Francois Hougaard not have benefitted from three years experience started for the Springboks? It may sound drastic to want to throw a youngster in the mix straight off the bat but in this regard I am looking beyond the next RWC and at who can take us forward. The question I beg is are Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar really going to be around post 2015? Probably not. Where then is the foresight? Who has been earmarked and are they gaining experience within the Springbok fold by holding tackle bags and carrying water bottles?
I have little to say about flyhalf but feel that it is worth mentioning that Morne Steyn has been entrusted with the number 10 since the start of Heyneke’s tenure and therefor should be the one to carry us through to the RWC. Forget his absolute brain melt on Saturday for a second and understand that he has done the job for us in the past and can do it in the future. Despite the fact that he is a revolving door on defence and brings very little imagination on offence. Don’t fuck around with the chaps confidence by playing a youngster in his place. What sort of a message does that send out to him? It’s no wonder he lost all BMT when it truly mattered.
On that note, if Heyneke does feel like a change at flyhalf is necessary, why is that change being implemented a year out of the World Cup? Why this late in the game? Why was a player not earmarked three seasons ago and developed? Why are we looking to make changes now? Why do I get the impression that Heyneke is unsure of himself in this position? It makes me nervous, Heyneke, and I don’t like being nervous so you had better sort your shit out.
Lastly, let’s talk 13. Having played both 12 and 13 in my time, I firmly believe that you cannot play a 12 at 13 and vice versa as the two positions are worlds apart on both attack and defence and require a specialist to handle them. Outside centre is one of the toughest positions to play on a rugby field and requires a huge amount of experience to get to grips with. If you are out of your depth at 13, you will get exposed every. Single. Time. Without fail! You can’t simply move a big inside centre to 13 and hope for the best. This will not solve the problem on the day or the perceived lack of depth in this position. Be honest for a second, neither de Villiers, de Allende or Serfontein are outside centres yet these are the players which have been selected to cover these two positions on the tour of Australasia. Where are our specialist 13’s in South Africa? Why is Juan de Jongh not playing for the Springboks? What is the problem between him and Heyneke? Why is Has Jaque Fourie’s contract not been changes? We desperately need a 13 who has the ability to bring the back three into the game and neither De Allende (because he can’t pass) or Serfontein (because he can’t pass) have this ability as yet.
The above mentioned positions are crucial to any rugby team and when solid, offer a huge amount of confidence to the players around them. When these positions can be depended upon, a team has the ability to grow and improve.
Why then, after three seasons are we still asking these questions? What has Heyneke been doing all this time? I don’t doubt that his job has its stresses and keeps him busy but I cannot help but ask this question: Is Heyneke so worried about the next result that he has forgotten to focus on the RWC? Consider the next time you see a Heyneke Meyer interview, how much he emphasises the fact that he and the team are focused on the next match. Not the tournament. Not building towards the World Cup but rather focused on the next 80 minutes. This has it’s credit but at some stage an eye needs to be turned to 2015 and what we need to achieve before we even get there. What is most worrying of all is that I fear we are too close to a World Cup to make any meaningful changes and unfortunately it seems that it is what it is at this late stage of the game.
You stay classy,