Durban – The big talking point around the Springbok squad of late has been the recall of Fourie du Preez after 18 months in the Japanese wilderness, with many suggesting it is a retrogressive move that serves no purpose seeing as he is 31 and will arguably be too old for the World Cup in England in 2015.
If he was a wing or an openside flank, I would agree, but Du Preez is such a smart player that he could easily be the scrumhalf general in England.
He is that good, and it is not a position that requires explosive power and speed. The good scrumhalves are the ones that read the game, play with guile and control proceedings, often taking the pressure off the flyhalf. Any scrumhalf can just shovel the ball out all game long, but the good ones know when to take the right option – to keep it among the forwards, to box kick, to move it wide or even when to break.
George Gregan was one of the best at knowing what to do when. Another Australian, Will Genia, is fast becoming the new Gregan, but in South Africa who do we have that can truly run a game at scrumhalf?
The Springboks have almost always had good scrumhalves, but this is an era where nobody is really putting their hand up. We just don’t have outstanding scrumhalves at the moment.
Francois Hougaard is good on the break and troubles defences, but he is no general. Ruan Pienaar is reliable, but is hardly dynamic. Jano Vermaak is a Super Rugby-level player at best, and so on.
And this is why Heyneke Meyer has brought back Du Preez. For most of his career he was regarded as the best scrumhalf in the world. It has been said that his display in the pool game against England at the World Cup in France was one of the best-ever exhibitions of scrumhalf play.
South Africa can win a World Cup in two years time with Du Preez at No 9. They won’t with one of the current contenders.
Meyer should be praised, not criticised for having the balls to bring back one of our best-ever players. It shows forward planning, not a backward step.
Others have said that Meyer should not be picking overseas-based players. Again, Meyer should be praised, not criticised. It is only a question of time before rugby follows the route of professional soccer and picks its best team, regardless of where players are based.
Rugby turned professional in 1996, not that long ago, and there is still this amateur hangover that players must be based in their country to qualify for the national team.
How ironic that South Africa – so long regarded as the most conservative rugby nation – is the first to be picking an overseas-based player when a local one is not quite good enough. On a 50-50 call, Meyer has said that he will pick the local guy, but if the overseas man offers substantially more, he will be picked.
There is a fair argument that picking Bath-based Francois Louw at openside flank ahead of the Cheetahs’ Heinrich Brussow does not make sense, but this is simply a matter of strategy in how the coach wants to play the game.
He feels Louw is the right man for how he wants his forward pack to operate. And to be fair to Louw, he is a much better player now after two years in Bath than when he played for Western Province.
But we are splitting hairs here. Well done to Meyer for picking the best man for the job.