France: Fourie needs big game

Jaque Fourie (Gallo)
Jaque Fourie (Gallo)

Cape Town – Perhaps we should all simply dine out for a bit longer on his brilliant bit of awareness to set up a critical try against Wales in the first match of the Springboks’ European tour.

The Boks were looking just a little under the cosh in the second half at the Millennium Stadium, remember, when Jaque Fourie – shh, probably from an offside position – followed up fellow Japan-based veteran Fourie du Preez’s kick and produced that lightning, cheeky off-load to the inside to send the scrumhalf streaking away to the posts and effectively douse the Welsh fire in the Test at the same time.

It was another vintage moment to savour from the outside centre, whose first-class career has been peppered with such flashes of game-altering inspiration – and it is probably a rare skill that will never leave him.

Perhaps that classy moment from him in Cardiff will come to be recognised as the catalyst for the three-match tour as a whole turning into a productive exercise, rather than one quickly placed on the back foot had the Six Nations champions stolen game one.

But has the Kobelco Steelers player broadly done enough, in the course of mostly satisfying team triumphs over Wales and Scotland respectively thus far, to confirm that he is an attractive option for the 2015 World Cup?

The answer, I think, remains both yes and no at this point.

Fourie has quietly got into some kind of groove after a shaky first quarter or so of the Wales Test – his defensive telepathy with once-familiar midfield partner Jean de Villiers seemed to have gathered a spot of dust during his absence from international rugby – and it will be a surprise if the starting centre partnership is disturbed now for the tour finale against France in Paris on Saturday (kickoff 22:00 SA time).

South Africa have scored seven tries without reply over the course of the two contests thus far, so that seems reason enough not to shake the backline bag too vigorously.

Yet a personal suspicion remains that Fourie, while increasingly doing unobtrusive, not always flashy but important donkeywork for the cause, hasn’t exhibited either in Cardiff or Edinburgh his fullest range of abilities or been as consistently energetic and incisive as we have seen in years gone by.

He has a more generous head of hair than he used to, and that has prompted some wags to suggest he may have filled out in other areas too – I am not prepared to subscribe to that sort of mischief yet.

But the best of Fourie is so often evidenced when the Boks – especially on reasonably firm surfaces, notably not on offer on this venture so far – are in a mood for ball-in-hand counter-attack from turnovers and he uncannily finds himself at the elegant-striding fulcrum of things, either as finisher or deft facilitator for others.

Remember the last meeting between South Africa and France, at Newlands in 2010, when the Boks earned an agreeably high-tempo 42-17 caning of Les Bleus?

In a five-try romp, arguably the best touchdown came as early as the second minute when Bryan Habana made great ground after pouncing on a loose ball, Fourie was typically on hand as “middle man” to receive his pass and then run a fine angle himself before feeding Pierre Spies to maraud over the line for the score.

In fairness, occasions like that one haven’t come dime a dozen at either the Millennium Stadium or Murrayfield (where Willie le Roux produced the Midas Touches anyway).

With a bit of luck, pitch conditions at Stade de France – not to mention the possibility of some Gallic flair coming into play – will be a bit more conducive to a free-flowing spectacle and that might get someone like Fourie’s attacking juices flowing once more.

Another rather muted, inconclusive game from him might only heighten fears that RWC 2015 could be a bridge too far in partnering Fourie with current captain De Villiers; they already sport a combined age of 62.

Also to be considered, and Fourie will surely not be unaware of it, is that coach Heyneke Meyer has spent a fair chunk of his two-season tenure in charge “investing” in the more youthful JJ Engelbrecht (24) in the No 13 jersey.

The gangly Engelbrecht, slippery and not lacking in game-cracking pace, has some question marks around his defensive game still – an area in which ace organiser Fourie has an obvious advantage – but he is already 12 appearances wiser as a Test player and should stay at least thereabouts as a midfield contender.

Jaque Fourie converting six-out-of-10 sort of showings of late into a seven or even eight on Saturday would settle a few lingering issues, you would think.

Buoyed by so much pleasant imagery of what he’s done in green and gold before, there are plenty of people keen to see him snap into fullest mojo in the last Bok Test of 2013 ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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