The World Cup draws ever closer, with the next task on the agenda being the much scrutinised squad selection. And the rugby365.com team have put on their selectors' hats to offer Bok coach Peter de Villiers some advice.
The wealth of talent available in South Africa is enough to make coaches from most other nations green with envy, and as such the selection debate is endless.
Our experts seldom agree and there were certainly some heated discussions, numerous differences of opinion and an array of both bizarre and ludicrous suggestions. The journey to the perfect squad doesn't run through an easily navigable network of tunnels, but rather a most intricate labyrinth of possibilities.
The first task is always to choose who should captain the side and oddly all four selectors agree that there is only one man for the job - John Smit. While there are those who may question his place in the side, what is beyond a shadow of a doubt is his aptitude as a leader. There are critics calling for Smit's head, whose reasoning is largely born out of a high regard for Bismarck du Plessis, but to leave out a successful and honourable captain at the eleventh hour has an alarming Gary Teichmann and Nick Mallet feel to it.
The front row itself is relatively simple to select, as Tendai Mtawarira, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis and Chiliboy Ralepelle all select themselves as the outstanding candidates. Special mention must go to both Coenie Oosthuizen and Adriaan Strauss, who are the unluckiest to miss out.
However, who other than Dr Jannie could fill in at tighthead is a major headache.
The experimentation with Smit at prop needs to be put to bed once and for all, as he is a hooker and moving him around the front row has only served to dent the great man's reputation. While the coach appears to have settled on CJ van der Linde as the man for the job based on his ability to cover both sides of the scrum, to a man we can't find a place for him in the squad.
“Van der Linde seems to have lost the qualities that made him so valuable to the 2007 World Cup-winning team - his work rate is down and his scrumming nowhere near as solid as it used to be,” Jan de Koning explained, with Bulls pillar Werner Kruger the answer to the conundrum.
Michael de Vries argues that: “There is a severe shortage of quality tighthead props and BJ Botha has the experience and scrumming technique to serve as able back-up to Jannie du Plessis. He has not been in the Bok frame for a long time, but nobody else has shown that they have what it takes.”
Brian Mujati is the other option, as the Zimbabwean-born prop has honed his skills and developed into one of the best tightheads in Europe at Northampton Saints. Former tighthead Cobus Visagie is a known admirer of Mujati and few would question the Bok strongman's knowledge of scrumming. The major hiccup in Mujati's selection is political, as he would need a passport as Beast did last year, despite the fact that the 26-year-old has played for the Boks before.
In the second row the two stalwarts of the side Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha get our unanimous approval, while the injured Andries Bekker will be sorely missed as a third easy choice.
There is a variety of locks available for inclusion, with Danie Rossouw, Flip van der Merwe, Gerhard Mostert, Franco van der Merwe and Steven Sykes all receiving votes.
Rossouw and Mostert have been in De Villiers' most recent plans and look to have the inside line, although neither player is by any means an automatic choice.
Paul Dobson explains his hard decision to leave out Rossouw in favour of the uncapped Franco van der Merwe. “It hurts me for he is a man who gives so much but his effort creates so little and loses the ball so often.”
Sykes' inclusion may also raise some eyebrows, but he was a consistent performer for the Sharks who never let the side down and is in the opinion of Timmy Hancox a safe bet to stick his head down and do the dirty work for the team.
There is no shortage of loose forwards in South Africa, which may be why previously unheard of players such as Hendre Fourie and Antonie Claassen turn up in England and France.
The obvious disappointment is that Juan Smith has ruled himself out of the tournament after failing to recover from serious injury in time, which is a massive blow for the side given his extraordinary pedigree. The other heads of state Schalk Burger and Heinrich Brüssow have recovered from their injuries and will no doubt get the nod.
Notably none of the squads found room for robust Jean Deysel, while Ashley Johnson, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Keegan Daniel and Dewald Potgieter all received recommendations for their inclusion on the side of the scrum.
De Vries leads the cry for Louw's place in the side as a quality openside: “He hasn't been in the Springbok frame this year, but he is an immensely physical player who plays towards the ball and should provide some vital balance in the loose trio when required.”
Dobson likes the energy Daniel brings to the game combined with the ability to get to the ball, while De Koning is an advocate for the whole-hearted running of Johnson and my vote is for Potgieter and his high work rate and incredible attitude where the team always comes first.
While there is a degree of versatility among the loose forwards, No.8 can be regarded as a specialist position, with Pierre Spies and Ryan Kankowski the leading contenders with Duane Vermeulen another injury casualty.
Spies is the incumbent in the Bok squad and will be on the plane, although he only gets 50 percent of the vote from our panel.
“His ball-carrying must actually create something and he needs to tackle as an eighthman should be able to do,” are Dobson's concerns.
Kankowski is also a debatable choice, as De Koning worries: “He is one of the players who just don't fit into the Bok pattern. He is great with ball in hand, but tends to disappear when Tests get tight. He is another player who has failed to take his domestic form into the Test arena.”
The Sharks No.8 does however get Hancox's vote for his excellent handling skills and ability to run into space that is superior to what Spies brings to the table. There has to be a reason why he is so highly though of by both the Kiwis and Aussies, albeit without making a big impact at Test level so far.
Scrumhalf is another area where there are stocks a plenty and any number of players who wouldn't disappoint on the international stage. Fourie du Preez is unequivocally the first choice and quite possibly the best player on the planet when he controls the game, and the Boks have looked lost without him in the past.
His understudy Francois Hougaard is one to watch in the future and wins all four votes, with his ability to play out on the wing an added bonus. Ruan Pienaar is another unquestionable talent, with his versatility an asset off the bench, although he isn't a unanimous choice with appeals for Jano Vermaak providing a shock pick at No.9 for his willingness to play attacking rugby. Sarel Pretorius was another name mentioned as a possible surprise, although he didn't make the final cut.
Dobson makes the observation that: “Vermaak has a spark about him that can ignite a fire, and he should have been there before.”
At flyhalf there is more uncertainty, although Butch James has won over all the selectors with his ability to take the ball up to the gain line and put the centres into gaps, while unflappable youngster Pat Lambie is also a popular choice.
Once again Dobson is the bravest and has left out the incumbent pivot Morné Steyn in favour of Elton Jantjies, who was also close to making De Koning's final selection.
“Jantjies has so much talent and is brave enough to take on the world,” Dobson said.
The biggest of all the controversial decision comes at centre where schoolboy star Jan Serfontein comes into consideration completely from left field.
Dobson explains the method behind the madness: “In 1989 I watched a Test in Salzburg when France played Australia, France with Franck Mesnel and Philippe Sella in the centres, established players, against two teenage Wallabies in their first international pairing - Tim Horan and Jason Little. Australia won and Horan scored a try. James O'Connor was a teenager when first he became a Wallaby and Jonny Wilkinson was an 18-year-old flyhalf of England. All four of those started young in vulnerable positions became world rugby stars. And so I have Jan Serfontein of Grey College, son of the great Boelie Serfontein of the Eastern Province. He is a centre who can play and let play and knows when to do which.”
The current crop of Juan de Jongh, Jaque Fourie and Jean de Villiers are all world class and should provide amble creative opportunities and defensive stability when called upon in the midfield, while Wynand Olivier and Adi Jacobs weren't even given a mention. However, astonishingly De Villiers has missed the cut in the very controversial Dobson side.
“It hurts to do it as he is such a fine man, but the ball needs to go beyond him and at the moment it does not. He charges courageously ahead but to no avail. One hopes that Juan de Jongh is young enough not to have the same tendency knocked out of him and we can go back to having centres who create and do not feel obliged to break the line every time they get the ball,” he explained.
The wings are stable choices, with JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana winning all the votes to be the starting wings, while Lwazi Mvovo and Gio Aplon are both proposed, but not agreed upon with frailties still existing in both of their games.
The international stage where there is less opportunity to break open a defence is a step too far for Aplon, who is exciting in Super Rugby but ultimately a liability in a Test match, so he doesn't feature in Hancox's squad.
Finally fullback is another area of concern, where Frans Steyn has been excluded by Dobson because “there is too much of him”, and included as a centre only by De Vries. He does possess the ability to change the course of a game and leaving him behind would be a mistake.
There are two out of the box calls with De Koning calling for Griquas star Riaan Viljoen and his golden boot to make the trip to New Zealand, while Hancox has given the thumbs up to Lions starlet Jaco Taute for his zest to go on the counterattack and Dobson - in keeping to form - wants them both of them in the squad.
Our individual squads:
JAN DE KONING squad:
Forwards: Willem Alberts, Bakkies Botha, Heinrich Brüssow, Schalk Burger, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Ashley Johnson, Werner Kruger, Victor Matfield, Tendai Mtawarira, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Danie Rossouw, John Smit, Pierre Spies, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Flip van der Merwe.
Backs: Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers, Fourie du Preez, Jaque Fourie, Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard, Butch James, Patrick Lambie, Odwa Ndungane, Ruan Pienaar, JP Pietersen, Frans Steyn, Morné Steyn, Riaan Viljoen.
The basis of my selection is not so much form as players I feel can perform on the big stage - i.e. players with BMT!
I have also taken into consideration the conditions we can expect in New Zealand and the type of game the Springboks are expected to play, which means we will stick to the structured game of the past eight years.
Kicking will also be vital, which is why I will start with Morné Steyn at flyhalf, and have Butch James and Patrick Lambie as my back-up. In fact the word 'utility' describes most of the players I have as my back-up selections.
Captain: John Smit
Unexpected inclusions: Odwa Ndungane, Riaan Viljoen
Notable omissions: Gio Aplon, Wynand Olivier, CJ van der Linde, Jean Deysel
MICHAEL DE VRIES squad:
Forwards: Tendai Mtawarira, Gurthrö Steenkamp, John Smit, Bismarck du Plessis, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Jannie du Plessis, BJ Botha, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw, Victor Matfield, Gerhard Mostert, Schalk Burger, Heinrich Brüssow, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Pierre Spies.
Backs: Fourie du Preez, Francois Hougaard, Ruan Pienaar, Butch James, Patrick Lambie, Morné Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo, Bryan Habana, Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie, Juan de Jongh, JP Pietersen, Frans Steyn, Gio Aplon.
Captain: John Smit - He has the pedigree and experience to lead this team, and although he is not likely to finish many games he has plenty of support in the form of senior players such as Victor Matfield and Schalk Burger who have what it takes to steer the ship when Bismarck du Plessis comes on to make an impact in the second half.
Unexpected inclusions: BJ Botha, Francois Louw
Notable omissions: Wynand Olivier, CJ van der Linde, Jean Deysel, Werner Kruger
PAUL DOBSON squad:
Forwards: Tendai Mtawarira, Brian Mujati, Jannie du Plessis, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Bismarck du Plessis, Chiliboy Ralepelle, John Smit, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Gerhard Mostert, Franco van der Merwe, Willem Alberts, Heinrich Brüssow, Schalk Burger, Francois Louw, Keegan Daniel.
Backs: Gio Aplon, Patrick Lambie, Riaan Viljoen, Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen, Juan de Jongh, Jaque Fourie, Jan Serfontein, Elton Jantjies, Jaco Taute, Butch James, Fourie du Preez, François Hougaard, Jano Vermaak.
We are told over and over about the depth of talent in the country, and yet when we leave some top players out we get smashed by All Blacks and Wallabies. We even lose to French selections, Scottish selections, Leicester and Saracens. Maybe the talent is here; maybe it's just not been used aright.
I don't think is the team that will be chosen. It is just my team.
There is such an obsession with structures that we are playing drab rugby devoid of thought or initiative. Again and again we kick off to the same place. Never do we use quick throw-in or tap kick. Never does the ball go down the backline to the wings, condemning wings to being chasers and defenders.
So I have tried to crack the mould just a bit in the full knowledge that my team will not play and would quite possibly get a snotklap if it did.
I have tried to pick the tried and tested with young players whose fearlessness and freshness could just make a difference before their innocence gets brainwashed.
Captain: John Smit - There has not been a captain like him - mature beyond his years, a man who makes you proud to be a South African, the obvious leader of the team, an inclusive captain rather than a dictator. But I should sit with him and work out with him how best to play him.
Unexpected inclusions: Brian Mujati, Franco van der Merwe, Francois Louw, Keegan Daniel, Riaan Viljoen, Jan Serfontein, Elton Jantjies, Jaco Taute, Jano Vermaak
Notable omissions: Morné Steyn, Jean de Villiers, Frans Steyn, Danie Rossouw, Pierre Spies, Ruan Pienaar, Wynand Olivier, CJ van der Linde, Jean Deysel, Werner Kruger
TIMMY HANCOX squad:
Forwards: Tendai Mtawarira, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Jannie du Plessis, Brian Mujati, John Smit, Bismarck du Plessis, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw, Steven Sykes, Heinrich Brüssow, Schalk Burger, Dewald Potgieter, Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts.
Backs: Fourie du Preez, Francois Hougaard, Ruan Pienaar, Butch James, Patrick Lambie, Morné Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo, Bryan Habana, Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie, Juan de Jongh, JP Pietersen, Frans Steyn, Jaco Taute.
There is enough talent in South Africa to play attractive rugby and still play winning rugby if the balance is correct and is controlled by the right halfback pairing.
I have warranted my selections on both players with the skills to be match winners on their own, with some ultimate ‘team men' who will put their bodies on the line and play with the right attitude in a game that needs men willing to sacrifice individual glory for a team victory.
Captain: John Smit - A man amongst men and a true born leader if ever there was one. His role in the make-up of the match 22 is up for debate, but not his inclusion as the skipper.
Unexpected inclusions: Jaco Taute, Dewald Potgieter, Ryan Kankowski, Steven Sykes, Brian Mujati
Notable omissions: Pierre Spies, Gio Aplon, CJ van der Linde, Jean Deysel, Werner Kruger, Wynand Olivier
Compile by Timmy Hancox
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