Fourie back in the fold

2014-10-16 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Jaque Fourie, back playing a little ahead of initial expectations after injury, may be laying claims to a repeat of his 2013 situation: a place on the Springbok end-of-year tour.

If so, his candidacy would give coach Heyneke Meyer a reasonably pleasant problem as he already has an array of midfield options to choose from.

The Japan-based centre reportedly started for his franchise, Kobe Kobelco Steelers, in their 24-24 draw last Saturday with Toyota Verblitz.

The still unbeaten Steelers have another outing this weekend, which should give the seasoned Bok midfielder another vital opportunity to sharpen his game after a lengthy layoff following an ankle operation in May.

Back then, the expectation was that Fourie (31) would be sidelined for up to six months, so it would appear the surgery has done the trick in closer to five.

It is possible, of course, that the rigours of Test rugby in November will be deemed a premature, too-optimistic scenario, but if the player has, indeed, recovered quicker than anticipated, Meyer is likely to be seriously tempted to at least consider him for the four-Test European venture.

Inquiries over Fourie to the Bok camp by Sport24 have led only to confirmation that nothing significant has changed from last year regarding availability of Japan-based players, so if the outside centre is deemed suitably fit there would be no paperwork obstacles to a Bok squad call-up.

It is known that Meyer fancies the presence of powerful-striding Fourie, who is also a brilliant marshal of the defensive line, at the 2015 World Cup, and South Africa have only eight Tests left now (four in Europe, three in a shortened Castle Rugby Championship and one extra clash against Argentina) until the major event.

So if he does still believe Fourie offers value, he will want to re-immerse him in plans as swiftly as possible.

The former Lions and Stormers favourite was similarly given fresh Test-level opportunities on the unbeaten 2013 northern hemisphere tour, when he was centrally involved in putting to bed what turned out to be the Boks’ most ding-dong game of their three, against Wales in Cardiff.

South Africa were leading by a tenuous 17-15 with the game up for grabs in the 64th minute when Fourie, hemmed in against the left touchline, produced an inspired flick inside to another Japanese-based stalwart, Fourie du Preez, to send the scrumhalf away for a try that closed the deal at 24-15.

It is alert moments of X-factor like that one that make the player very hard to overlook, even if the Bok midfield combination would look rather long in the tooth at RWC 2015 if it ends up being a restoration of Fourie with currently 33-year-old captain Jean de Villiers.

Also hard to dispute was that — like the proverbial old diesel engine — Fourie took a bit of time to get going on that tour as he gradually adjusted anew to the faster, harsher demands of international play from the Japanese Top League.

Right now, the Boks are being very well served by the combination of De Villiers and appreciably younger Jan Serfontein, who are able to alternate between the inside and outside berths even if the last-named player, getting increasingly accustomed to the No. 13 jersey, is probably still better suited to No. 12.

Adding to the centre conundrum for the European tour, rookie Damian de Allende is still in the extended Bok squad, and JP Pietersen offers options both in midfield and at wing.

Domestically, Western Province captain Juan de Jongh is among Currie Cup players routinely catching the eye for excellence and there are many critics who feel he richly deserves renewed Bok involvement.

But the Boks intend taking a swollen party of 36 on the end-of-year trip to play Ireland, England, Italy and Wales in that order — the squad will be revealed on Sunday, October 26 — so maybe Meyer will find ways of being especially well-stocked at centre, whilst managing to compensate for any shortcomings elsewhere.

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