No 'best Springbok XV' exists

2006-11-29 09:41

Mark Keohane

If five wins out of 12 is acceptable fare for the Springboks then don't waste your money on a World Cup ticket in 2007.

Jake White has told us not to judge him on five wins out of 12, but on what his strongest team could do at the World Cup - the kind of team that has beaten the All Blacks in the past few years, but also that team that lost in Dublin to Ireland and at Twickenham to England.

For the moment, let's forget about the losses and concentrate on the wins, even if they haven't been that many.

And let's look at who achieved our famous wins for the Bok coach.

The Boks, if they put together their strongest team, can beat anyone on their day. How often have I heard this in the past 12 months? Hell, I've even said it myself on more than 10 occasions.

Does it exist?

But will the Boks ever put out their strongest team? And does such a thing actually exist?

The Bok coach has said often this year that the ideal match 22 he has in his mind has (in 37 Tests) never played. That could be because they're all New Zealanders, but we'll give Jake the benefit on this one and actually believe they are all South Africans.

Then, what is the best XV? Is it an ageing Percy Montgomery or a youthful Francois Steyn? Schalk Burger, Juan Smith, Danie Rossouw, Pierre Spies, Kabamba Floors and Pedrie Wannenburg don't go into three. It can only be one of Ricky Januarie or Fourie du Preez at scrumhalf... the best to beat Ireland is perhaps a different best to beat New Zealand.

You need bulk to batter the Kiwis, but more mobility to see off the Wallabies. Which is better and what makes one player better than the other? One's skill could be potent in a particular game-plan and not a factor when played in a different combination.

It is fantastic to develop depth and to have two or more players to cover every position, but the moment a team reaches that level, what they gain in quality they lose in talk of a best team. The latter term then no longer exists because you can only play 15 at one time.

So when Jake White says his best team can beat the All Blacks and whoever else at the World Cup and win it, who is this 'best team' he has developed over three years?

Rose from the dead

You'd have to say Steyn has overtaken Montgomery, even if White won't be as quick to agree with you. You'd have to say Bryan Habana's shares have dropped, even if White won't agree with you. You could argue a place has to be made for Wynand Olivier and that Jaque Fourie and Jean de Villiers aren't as good as we'd like to think. Of the flyhalves Andre Pretorius rose from the dead at Twickenham, but only next year will tell us if the life in his international career has 12 months or more. Can Butch James's knees take another year and will Meyer Bosman come good?

At scrumhalf there's Ruan Pienaar, Januarie and Du Preez. Who do you play against whom?

The loosies in contention amount to double digits, but only three can start. We know who the locks will be, we know who the hooker will be if White takes the team to the World Cup and we know who the loosehead prop will be, even though White keeps on bemoaning Gurthro Steenkamp's absence. If he can breathe, Os du Randt will be there.

Given this little exercise you can't say with any certainty after three years of White's coaching which is the best 15 out of the 64 players he has used.

And I seriously doubt White can tell us who they are either.

This brings me back to results and the need to win more than you lose every Saturday during the Test match season.

White has to be judged on the team he picks every Test and on the subsequent results. If we do that we are dealing in tangibles.

Outrageous prices

If we start buying into the 'judge me at the World Cup' and 'when I pick my ideal team' then we may as well stop keeping score on a Saturday and all sign up for the fantasy league.

And if we do that then Saru may as well stop charging outrageous cash for Test tickets.

Professional coaches are well paid to do a job and that job is about each Saturday and not 44 supposedly meaningless Tests between World Cups; Tests that cost fans more than R350 a pop.

Sorry Jake, but you have to be judged on a 59% win record in the last three years. No more and no less.

If Saru's bosses believe that is acceptable, then you should stay. If not, then get in the queue for a World Cup ticket and you'll soon start seeing that when you are paying every Test, results do actually count. When you're cashing big dollars to watch a team, you are entitled to performance and not four year promises from coaches.

I've said it often: the World Cup has become a four year excuse for the majority of the game's coaches. The World Cup should be a bonus to winning more Test matches in four years than you actually lose.

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