White will not risk a defeat

2007-11-27 00:00

It was an indication of how seriously he is still taking his last game in charge of the Springboks that Jake White yesterday called up Sharks lock Johan Ackermann to act as cover for the injured Bakkies Botha.

The incumbent has an injured ankle and is a doubtful starter for the match against the Barbarians at Twickenham. White says he will not risk Botha if there is any element of risk involved, so there is a fair chance that 37-year-old Ackermann, who played his first Test for South Africa as long ago as 1996, will get an opportunity to play.

White has always been reluctant to give Springbok jerseys or Test caps away, so it should not come as too much of a surprise that Ackermann, and not a younger lock with potential, was called out of semi-retirement to help out.

White probably feels some loyalty to a player who played for him on the 2006 end of season tour when some of the frontline players were being rested, and who was part of the Springbok squad for the away leg of this year’s Tri-Nations.

If you just took form as a yardstick, Ackermann is probably the next best number four lock behind the injured Danie Rossouw behind Botha.

This selection then is an undeniable sign that White does not want to risk defeat on Saturday despite the festival nature of the clash with a Barbarians team which is expected to include several top southern hemisphere players.

It is nonetheless an odd decision if you consider that Ackermann is in a state of limbo in his career at the moment. He is described as being in semi-retirement as it is not clear whether he will be continuing is career next year.

The Sharks are still deliberating over whether to employ him for one more Super 14 season, and it was generally accepted that he had played his last game of rugby.

But it will be a fitting send-off for Ackermann if he does play, and sentimentality is understandably weighing quite heavily on selection decisions at the moment as the White era draws to a close at the end of this week. White has never made any secret of the fact that this tour was about closing a chapter rather than starting a new one, and had all 30 of his World Cup winners been available, he would have selected them for the trip.

A further concession to sentimentality is White’s decision to approach SA Rugby to ask for permission to select 25 players in the match day squad for the Twickenham match. This is because at the outset he promised the players that they would all get game time at some stage of the tour.

Players not involved in the 34-12 win over Wales at the Millennium Stadium last weekend include Conrad Jantjes, Wiun du Preez, Barend Pieterse and Wayne Julies. White is duty bound to give them all a run, but at the same time he doesn’t want to too drastically weaken his team.

The Boks had an off-day yesterday and efforts to contact management members or media liaison Vusi Kama proved fruitless, so there was no saying at the time of going to press whether White’s request had been granted or not.

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