Cape Town – Warren Whiteley must remain right at the forefront in the race to become new Springbok captain in 2017, insists widely-travelled director of rugby and coach Gary Gold.
Gold, a member of the Bok coaching panel in an altogether happier era when they beat the British and Irish Lions in the 2009 series and won the former Tri-Nations in the same year, says people must be cautious not to judge Whiteley too harshly on his role in the collective struggle by the national team in 2016.
The leadership is up for grabs next year as Adriaan Strauss has retired as Test skipper and hooker, although he will still play Super Rugby for the Bulls next season.
“I continue to support Warren Whiteley’s credentials, big time,” says Gold, who is back in Cape Town after recently stepping down from his position as director of rugby at the Sharks for two campaigns.
He believes Whiteley is a classic case of a player whose personal game is boosted by the cares of captaincy; in earning 15 Bok caps thus far, it has always been as a rank-and-filer.
“I think critically we need a guy who is playing in South Africa, who understands the landscape -- the Super Rugby scene, especially,” Gold told Sport24.
“The history of Bok rugby has shown that there is a direct link between very strong leaders on the field and successful teams – I think of Francois Pienaar, Andre Vos, Gary Teichmann, John Smit.
“Many of them have been touted as being in the team that bit more for what they offer in captaincy than in pure playing terms. There would always have been a lot of talk about better players being potentially available in their positions at times, but I can tell you from a Smit point of view, for example, that what he brought in leadership was absolutely immense.
“When I talk of the value of guys like these, it comes not even so much during the 80 minutes of the Test match itself.
“It’s very much about the bridging between the players -- their feelings, their views – and the coaches; bridging that ‘divide’, if you know what I mean, even if it shouldn’t really be a divide. The captain is a vital conduit in that area.
“I believe quite strongly Warren is that personality. He’s been critical as that bridging guy in the success of the Lions; I know (head coach) Johan Ackermann views him almost as an extra assistant coach. We need to see it like that.”
Gold is not overly concerned by Whiteley’s moderate showings in a labouring Bok cause of late.
“When you analyse Warren’s playing ability, I do think he is totally good enough to be in the team. He is playing at a difficult time for the whole group, remember.
“But I do find him to be a very neat eighth-man. I think his basics are very good; he’s a great lineout forward for one thing, one of our best contesters.
“He is a beautiful runner with the ball … remember the try against the All Blacks in Christchurch (earlier this year)? His footwork put Bryan (Habana) into the hole.
“I think he is quite unique in South Africa because he is one of the few (forwards) who actually uses footwork; gets you over the advantage line. He passes well, his running lines are clever, and he is hugely efficient stats-wise, with a fine work-rate. He falls back in defence very well.
“I almost do not see a negative to it (his possible appointment).”
Gold admits there are certain other compelling No 8s.
“There’s Duane (Vermeulen), but he is not based in the country … and on the subject of him, he could be a great option as blindside (flank) as well.
“I believe Philip van der Walt is a wonderful rugby player too; I obviously have inside information on him (from his Sharks tenure) -- very under-rated. Young Dan du Preez will become very good as well.
“But there aren’t hundreds of other options jumping off a page, glaringly blocking a Warren Whiteley being Bok captain …”
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing