So with the Super 14 pretty much done and nearly dusted, South African attention now turns to the — impending/looming/choose own hyperbolic adjective here — incoming tour by the British and Irish Lions. Now as is the nature of such, every man, dog and his braai stand have been playing selector and choosing their teams/squads to face the British Invaders — wait till the Yanks get their hands on rugby, this name is SO coming.
So in keeping with the national spirit, please find below my view on who should start and backup the 2009 Lions Tour. Feel free to criticise/demonise/applaud etc. That is why this forum exists, right?
Loosehead: The Beast reigns supreme. He continues to more than hold his own in the scrums. I can’t actually remember seeing him move backwards in the S14 and truly is like an extra loose-forward in the scrums. The Lord truly taketh with one hand and giveth with the other. We lost Os to Father Time and were blessed with a Beast. Guthro Steenkamp would be my backup here. Absolutely epic in the scrums and though he is no Beast in the tight-loose he stands back for no-one.
Hooker: No Bismarck here. Why I hear you ask? Immense as his physical presence is — and he is an animal with ball in hand … well until he drops it or isolates himself — his handling and lack of awareness when running with the ball in hand make him a liability. Plus his line-out throwing can go very woozy at times, and you cannot afford that in a once-every-12-years three Test series. So I’d return the skipper to his natural position — allow me to state here that I feel John Smit at tighthead has been a quite successful experiment so far, pity no other hooker put their hand up higher than his.
Backup would be a toss-up between Chilliboy Rallepele and Derrick Kuun. Kuun is solid and able if not spectacular, whereas Chilliboy is still raw but has that X-factor in him that showed in a young Smit a few years back. Maybe both in an enlarged squad?
Tighthead: Jannie du Plessis has had some good showing for the Sharks here and I’d be willing to give Heinke v/d Merwe a shot too.
Lock: Umm well let’s see, Matfield and Botha pick themselves like the 2006 version of Schalk Burger. Easy one that. Like fiddling expense claims in Westminster. Van der Bergh and Danie Rossouw are more than able replacements. Plus they add extra mobility around the park in the latter stages of a game without losing any mongrel (Rossouw) and ball-snaffling ability (Van der Bergh).
Loose trio: Juan Smith and Pierre Spies pick themselves again. Juan has continued oozing class in a retreating Cheetahs side since returning from injury while Spies came up trumps in his battle with Kankowski last weekend. We already know what he can do going forward in space but his display in a tightly fought encounter last week won over even as blinkered a Sharks fan as myself.
Then there is the Schalk conundrum. The guy never lets the Bokke down. Fact. He has also had an average to poor season. Fact. Heinrich Brussouw and Luke Watson have had better performances as designated fetchers and ball carriers. What do you do then? I say trust the man in possession of the jersey. Schalk has not become a bad player and let’s see if he still turns it on for the green and gold. Luke to be part of the squad. Say what you like about him, the boy is a quality player. Brussouw in the squad as well.
Scrummie: FdP is yet another banker in this position. And his second in charge? Jano Vermaak. Rory Kockott provides an extra kicking option but is too blinkered and selfish in his play — feel free to contest this. Vermaak has been one of the few shining lights in a dismal season for the Lions and he could inject some pace and verve in the Bok set-up. I really wish Ricky Januarie had been fit and in form. He and Fourie are the kind of scrummie double act you need to keep your opponents on their toes. One classical and fluid, the other a mercurial jack-in-the-box who will keep the opposition guessing and both are strong in defence. But Fourie and Jano it is for now.
Fly-half: Morne Steyn and Ruan Pienaar. If Ruan can prove to be fit and ready in time for the first Test — the Thursday before the Test doesn’t count — I’d start with him. If not it’s a baptism of fire for the (incredibly) still young Steyn, he would at least have a lot of familiar company in the team. Morne has been the form pivot in the Super 14 while Ruan has looked at least comfortable in the games he has started. I just hope he doesn’t take long to find his rhythm.
Inside centre: Wynand Olivier has had a really good season but I’d pick a 50% fit Jean de Villiers over him any day of the week. You simply don’t drop the country’s best backline player unless the replacement has been performing heroics, and quite frankly Wynand has been good in a good team going forward. Wynand as backup then.
Outside centre: As above. Jaque Fourie has had a good season. But it certainly hasn’t been the heroics Adi Jacobs’ critics would have us believe. He hasn’t even been playing to his best. Jacobs on the other hand took our midfield axis from the “very good” state it was in with Jaque and Jean and took it to excellent. We haven’t seen backline play like that since “die Lem” was redefining Bok backline play. He has not been at his best this year either but is an entirely different player with Jean on his inside and with Habana and JPP coming back into form. We need a creative axis inside them for those five pointers to come. Ps: In Adi’s defence. Everyone has been barged through while trying to tackle in their career. Don’t point it out only when it’s Adi. This is the kind of thinking that would have had a Matt Giteau or Dan Carter go overseas to find playing opportunities while we looked for 100kg brutes with the tactical nous of a seahorse. Hell, how big was Lem exactly?
I’d have Frans Steyn as cover — if only because you need to have him in your squad — and not just to pass the ball to the opposition in OUR 22, and Jaque would be cover if Adi’s shoulder started acting up.
Wings: Another easy one, JPP and Habana. I would not go for the Ndungane twins as backup though. Willing as they are they remain severely limited in their abilities for this level. I’d take Jongi Nokwe for his pure wing ability and give Louis Ludik a chance as cover for wing and fullback.
Fullback: Zane Kirchner has been very good this year and is raw. Stefan Terblanche has been very good and he has tons of experience. Easy choice again. Zane sneaks in on account of Frans Steyn’s versatility getting him a nod at centre though that could limit his match-day 22 chances.
Of course the biggest thing about international season IN this era isn’t just who is going to be in the squad, but the soundbite-friendly Dr Snor interviews. It’s been a while. I for one can hardly wait.
*Reaches for a beer*