Kicking quandary for Springboks?
February 17, 2009
De Villiers' side play host to the British & Irish Lions later this year © Getty Images
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers recently sought advice from an unlikely source as South Africa went into full swing with their preparations for the tour by the British and Irish Lions.
De Villiers consulted with former coach Carel du Plessis, who was in charge of the Bok squad that went down as favourites against the British and Irish Lions.
While not many details were forthcoming about what was said between the two, Du Plessis hopefully mentioned the importance of a reliable goalkicker. For as well as the Lions performend, it was South Africa's apparent refusal to honour this time-honoured principle that played a significant part in them being vanquished on home soil.
And as new Springbok fly-half Ruan Pienaar missed three penalty attempts inside the first 13 minutes in the Super14 match for the Sharks against the Stormers on Saturday, one could not help but cast your mind back to 12 years ago. It's for that very reason that one wonders who might handle the goalkicking if Pienaar is off song later this year.
The Sharks had a ready replacement in scrum-half Rory Kockott, who took over the goalkicking in the second half and led a comeback from 0-10 down to win 20-15. Kockott was also unlucky not to make the Bok squad after last year's Super14 and one can't help wondering about the merits of pairing him with his regional halfback partner for the Boks.
Fourie du Preez had a patchy 2008, while Ricky Januarie was outplayed by Kockott at the weekend. There's still a long way to go in the Super14 and one should be careful to make judgements based on one game, but there was food for thought for the Bok selectors. Remember, Percy Montgomery has also retired from international rugby, which means the reliable boot he crafted during a spell in Wales is no longer at Springbok rugby's disposal. Conrad Jantjes now has ownership of South Africa's No.15 jersey. He has an attacking edge to his game, but is not known as a goalkicker.
Talking fullbacks, former Ospreys player Stefan Terblanche could be set for a dramatic return to the Boks against the Lions. Terblanche was the best fullback in South Africa on form during last year's Currie Cup and also starred in the Sharks' 20-15 victory over the Stormers in this year's first round of Super 14 action.
"If I may tell a secret, Stefan was very close to making our squad for last year's tour to Britain," said Springbok coach Peter de Villiers. "Sometimes you just decide to take a younger player because he can learn and is not going to be the first choice."
De Villiers left the door wide open for Terblanche and other South African players to impress him in the Super14 as he looks to pick a squad that can soothe the pain of the series loss of 1997.
The ease with which Bok skipper John Smit slotted in at loosehead prop once hooker Bismarck du Plessis took the field for the Sharks on Saturday would also have been comforting for De Villiers. He is set to continue with Du Plessis at hooker and Smit at tighthead prop against the Lions.
Smit's ability to slot in seamlessly anywhere in the front row is certainly a major boost for South Africa. Little wonder then that De Villiers said in an interview this week that the Bok skipper had greater stature than All Black counterpart Richie McCaw. Those were necessary words in a country where Smit is not always appreciated, possibly due to the enormous amount of talent at South Africa's disposal.
There were two major injury scares at the weekend - Jean de Villiers was stretchered off with a neck injury and Victor Matfield hurt his shoulder. However, De Villiers is fine, while Matfield is set to be sidelined for no longer than three weeks.
Finally, it will be interesting to see what other surprises are in store at English club Saracens. The possibility of sabbaticals for top players (read Schalk Burger) was already mentioned in South Africa's Afrikaans press last year. It was also reported in Afrikaans daily Die Burger 10 days prior to the formal announcement that Brendan Venter would be succeeding Eddie Jones as director of rugby in July.
Rumours have it Burger will play 10 games for Saracens later this year if he can secure the necessary releases from contractual commitments in South Africa. It may only be the beginning, with several South Africans said to be lined up by the English club.