The hooker issue

2011-08-13 00:00

in the right direction

THE long wait is finally over for the 15-odd Boks who stayed home during the away leg of the Tri-Nations — and I am sure they must be kicking their heels ahead of today’s match against the Wallabies in Durban.

Their planning sessions, defence sessions, tactical sessions and fitness sessions at the Royal Marang Sports Palace are done and dusted, it is time for the real Boks to stand up and deliver.

Of course, not only this weekend and in Port Elizabeth next week, but also during the next two months in New Zealand.

Do we have the players to defend the World Cup? Of course we have. Do we have the gameplan to win the World Cup? Of course we have. Do we have the tactical nous to win the World Cup? Of course we have.

So if that is the case, how could we possibly lose?

Well, it is easy and can happen. Just ask New Zealand how easy it is to fold under pressure when it counts most. And they have been the best team in the world for a while now.

But their insecurities are their problem, not ours. We need to look at our own team and what we need to do to be successful again.

Obviously one needs to look back to the 2007 side and the way they prepared and how it differs from the 2011 campaign.

Senior players make it clear they are very happy with the way things have been planned. I can only imagine they would be, as it was based on their input and suggestions!

The squad, or at least the match 22, will be easy to pick and according to coach Peter de Villiers will play all the rugby in the tournament.

The coach indicated that he will not feel any pressure to give all 30 in the squad a run and that even against Namibia it is likely that his preferred 22 will start.

This, of course, has the potential to create some unhappiness in the camp and reminded me of the luck Jake White had in 2007.

Back then Frans Steyn was not guaranteed a starting spot, with the versatile youngster playing for the Springboks on the wing, midfield and fullback prior to the tournament.

Restless and impatient at best, Steyn was expected to be able to push for a starting place in any of those positions. Problem was, of course, that in Percy Montgomery the Boks had their kicker and in Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie a midfield combination that clicked immediately as a combination.

The sheer pace and explosiveness of Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen meant that Steyn was not going to start ahead of them on the wing.

The whole potentially damaging scenario was solved in game one when De Villiers tore his bicep right off the bone in the opening minutes against Samoa and was out for the rest of the tournament.

Steyn was elevated to the 12 jersey and in an instant, and without White having to make a very difficult call, his biggest potential problem was solved.

De Villiers will have some selection issues, but none as threatening as the Steyn scenario of 2007.

If he includes John Smit he will have some issues over whether the Sharks player can actually captain the team off the bench, but with Smit and Bismarck du Plessis used to that scenario at the Sharks neither should have much of a problem in that regard.

Steyn is much more mature now and clearly the first-choice fullback, so coach De Villiers should not have any problems in that regard.

The injury to Andries Bekker also rules out a potential selection issue between the Stormers lock, Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.

At loose forward, due to the injuries to the likes of Juan Smith and Schalk Burger, they will be eased into action during the tournament, which means players like Heinrich Brüssow and Danie Rossouw should get more than enough time on the field.

The loosehead situation, where both Beast Mtawarira and Gurthrö Steenkamp stake a strong claim, will bring the best — and not the worst — out of both.

It seems then that De Villiers will not, but for the Smit/Bismarck issue, have any potentially damaging team selection issues, although we will have to wait and see how the Morné Steyn/Butch James situation develops.

How has the way the Sharks have handled that issue solved the hooker problem, if at all? Or did John Plumtree, in not playing Smit more regularly, create an environment that could potentially cost the Boks?

Will Peter de Villiers, like Jake White, need some luck in forcing a decision or will he be brave enough to make it on his own?

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