Defining tour for Pretorius

2006-11-08 09:12

Mark Keohane

The Pretorius most have been speaking about this week is new cap Jaco, but the biggest challenge on this Bok tour will fall to namesake Andre.

The gifted Lions flyhalf has threatened a breakthrough at international level since 2002, but has never returned from an overseas tour with performances good enough to convince his detractors that he has arrived as a Test flyhalf.

There have been some brilliant cameos in South Africa, but nothing remotely good enough away from home.

In 2002 Pretorius was very good against Wales in Cape Town, Argentina in Springs and New Zealand in Durban. He was one of the so-called pocket rockets who were going to destroy France in Marseilles. Only Pretorius's Test turned into a nightmare as the Bok pack back-pedalled all afternoon.

From there he went to Murrayfield and flopped as a second half substitute. His tour ended in the most bizarre manner when Bok captain Corne Krige accidentally knocked him out in the Boks record 53-3 defeat to England at Twickenham.

Injuries provided further setbacks for Pretorius in 2003 and Rudolf Straeuli ignored his potential on the hard and fast fields of Australia in selecting the more conventional duo of Louis Koen and Derick Hougaard for the World Cup.

Jake White's introduction to the Bok coaching job also meant no favours for Pretorius. White had often gone on record as saying Pretorius was not good enough as a Test flyhalf. The Bok coach said if there was an international future for Pretorius it was at fullback.

White finally relented 18 months into his tenure and picked Pretorius for South Africa's Mandela Cup match against the Wallabies at Ellis Park. Pretorius, as is his custom at Ellis Park, was outstanding. He then played the remainder of the Tri-Nations at flyhalf, but his tournament ended when he was injured against the All Blacks in Dunedin. Again his away form failed to compare with his imposing presence at home.

White again selected Pretorius for Tests in 2005 against the Pumas, Wales and France. There was to be no redemption however as Pretorius twisted his ankle after 20 minutes against the Pumas and didn't even make it to Wales or Paris.

Which brings us to 2006 and what may prove to be Pretorius's most significant year as an international player.

Pretorius is the man who probably saved White his coaching job with a 78th minute kick to beat the All Blacks in Rustenburg by a point. Defeat against the All Blacks would have been White's sixth in succession and the word was he would not have survived to take the Boks on the end of year tour.

White is in Dublin, thanks largely to that win. And so too is the man who kicked the goal.

The question is whether Pretorius finally will produce the kind of form he finds so easily at home.

To be a factor his pack will have to be dominant and not just competitive.

The jury is still out on Pretorius's claims as the best flyhalf option for the 2007 World Cup, to be played in France. The next three Tests could be career-defining for him.

Further failure or ill-fortune through injury could prove fatal to his international career. The Boks need Pretorius to outlast Ireland flyhalf Ronan O'Gara in the tactical match-up on Saturday. The Boks need Pretorius to inspire them to victory in Dublin.

And Pretorius then has to go to Twickenham and land the knockout blow to his critics at the same venue where he was so unceremoniously knocked out in 2002.

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