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Damned if you do and damned if you don’t


Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Springboks on 5 Jul 2009 at 21:26
Tagged with : , , , , , , ,

I wonder exactly which of the several available angles the rabid Anti-Div squad are going to pick for the coming week’s attack. Not that it really matters, I guess, since they’re going to see it all their way regardless. I wonder what changed to suddenly turn John Smit into such a kak coach overnight…

No, I’m looking more at the decision to make ten changes to the team and pondering the fact that, for de Villiers (and, in fact, for coaches in general) the challenge of managing your second-tier of players and giving them sufficient game time is an incredibly tricky one.

Jake White took his side to a World Cup win on a platform (nay, obsessive mantra) of continuity in selection above all else. He told us that he knew, right when he took over in 2004, who would be in his match 22 for that epic final in Paris four years later. Injury and attrition took their toll, but he probably got it at least 70% right. He took plenty criticism along the way, though, for failing to develop any depth whatsoever outside his starting XV – leading to some particularly embarrassing incidents along the way. Remember when Schalk Burger was ruled out and we suddenly discovered that White really had no clue whatsoever who his next-best number 6 was? In fact, he didn’t even believe in picking a specialist in this position, so addicted was he to what Burger had to offer. Remember also the succession of Bok number 16s, starting with Shimmie Shimange, through Gary Botha and Danie Coetzee and eventually on to Bismarck du Plessis, who accumulated approximately 25 minutes of game time, between them, over the course of 4 seasons.

No, Jake was loyal to a fault, but developing depth was not a strength.

Now let’s look at de Villiers. The first thing we were told was that he’d be stupid to not pick exactly the same side Jake White did. He has stuck by that philosophy as closely as he could without compromising too much on his own ideas for the team – and found that every variation from the White blueprint, such as picking Adi Jacobs at outside centre ahead of golden boy Jacque Fourie, was met with increasingly frantic and predictable howls of derision from the trailing hack pack. The great unwashed masses that comprise the Springbok fan club seem to have a completely schizophrenic approach to the new coach – he needs to do everything exactly the way White did, yet even when he does win, it’s because he inherited a great team. The shadow of the former coach looms large over everything he does and I am not surprised that he feels he needs to lash out at the establishment that has saddled him with this unwanted burden. As if his job wasn’t hard enough…

Let’s look at Saturday’s game, though and the brave, yet ultimately foolish decision taken to throw in a veritable Bok B-team against the Lions in the third test. Now, we were told in no uncertain terms that it was a simple case of rotation and that the team picked was in every position the equal of the one that had triumphed so narrowly in the two previous games. The fact is, though, that even had each individual in the new side stood up as expected (and let’s face it, many of them didn’t) the impact of changing so many of the established combinations and introducing so many new faces all at once served to scupper and hopes of a series whitewash, almost before the opening whistle.

So was it right to pick them? The Div-bashers will say no – I see one website of ill-repute (in fact, even iller than Keo’s place) has taken to calling him Peter dof Villiers in a truly astonishing display of the depths to which only Dutchman Humour can sink – and that the great name of Springbok victory has in some way forever been tarnished by losing to the Lions, even though we learned so much about the ability and temperament of our second-string players in the process. They forget, of course, that White, the self-same coach that they can do nothing but praise, send an understrength team overseas in the 2007 Tri-Nations and suffered some quite similar results. I wonder if they still have copied of the articles they wrote calling for his head? I guess it doesn’t matter – so long as you hunt in such a big pack, it doesn’t matter ir you’re right or wrong.

I see it somewhat differently. I think we have had some of our “depth” illusions shattered and now know that we have a fair bit of work to do in developing a second rung of players capable of pushing hard for inclusion in the Bok starting XV, thus keeping the incumbents on their toes and in top form. Chilliboy Rallepele was industrious in the loose, but his set pieces work wasn’t up to scratch. Johann Muller is a good tight number 5, but lacks the raw mongrel to replace what Bakkies Botha brings as a four. Ryan Kankowski battled manfully in a beaten pack but showed, yet again, that he’s not really a player for the tight stuff.

Morné Steyn is a great goalkicker, but looks just as limited behind a retreating pack as Ruan Pienaar did – the latter at least appeared to have some ideas and attacking variation when coming on in the second half. Wynand Olivier is selfish as ever and, let’s be honest, not a great distributor. Jacque Fourie had so few opportunities to do anything that it’s not surprising he looked ordinary, while the back three were just plain out of their depth. Odwa Ndunange was shown up for a lack of top-end while Jongi Nokwe and Zane Kirchner have no hands and no clue respectively.

So then – Peter de Villiers now knows a lot more about exactly what he has in his squad and will use the Tri-Nations to fine-tune his ideal team within those boundaries. The good news for those slaving away in the Currie Cup is that a fair few spots on the end of year tour would appear to have opened up and there is now much to play for.



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