In search of a good tighthead
Jake White will tell you the best thing about the team he has picked for the first Test against Scotland this weekend is that they share 525 caps among them.
And, while Os du Randt is back with John Smit to anchor the loosehead, the same confidence cannot be felt about Eddie Andrews on the tighthead—despite White’s assurances that these three are the most experienced as a unit with just 13 appearances together.
Consistency is important, White keeps arguing—but both Andrews and Hanyani Shimange scrummed consistently badly in the Super 14, as Garth Wright succinctly put it after the World XV mess.
Maybe having that lumbering plonker Danie Rossouw behind him might give Andrews more of a chance to get the all-important right shoulder against Scotland, who are no easy-beats.
They are a side on the up-and-up, having beaten England and France in the Six Nations.
Public sentiment can often be wrong, as it was in White’s first year in charge, when he confounded his critics by winning the Tri-Nations.
Scotland coach Frank Hadden described the Test as being “in the lion’s den against one of the top sides in world rugby at possibly one of the most difficult venues to play”, so why are Springbok fans so disheartened?
“I don’t know, it feels like there is a lot of doom and gloom going around. I don’t know why. It is almost as if someone has died,” White moaned this week. “But suddenly everyone is saying that we cannot score tries, that we only score tries from intercepts.”
The point White misses is that this is not just a Springbok problem but a Super 14 problem too. Winning bonus points by losing by less than seven points, which the Sharks did to accumulate the most bonus points, is not the same as winning them for scoring tries. Our teams are simply not doing this, especially at national level.
Forget the players not learning from their mistakes, White himself doesn’t appear to learn from his own.
You want to say the honeymoon is over, but that has been said for the last three years in the bi-annual obituary for Springbok rugby. It might still be reversed if White can work the same magic he did last year, and the year before, by rejuvenating and inspiring his tired stars.
For all his technical savvy, the key lesson he needs to learn is that if the stars don’t deliver in Super 14 or Currie Cup, they have no right to be selected. It’s a fine line between selecting a player on form and on past form.
White has a good point that one good game doesn’t make an international player. But why not work with players who are at least willing to produce the goods? Why choose out-of-form players, such as Marius Joubert, who are coasting on their reputation from two years ago?
Why is Ricky Januarie on the bench after a less-than-stellar Super 14 at the expense of Ruan Pienaar, who showed some of his gap-taking magic last week before being held up 2m from the line.
Another irksome error is the way White responds to media criticism about not selecting an in-form player (Luke Watson, Schalk Brits and, last week, Cobus Visagie) by assassinating him. Not only is it unbecoming of the national coach, but it is tragic that such stand-out players are dissed by the man who claims he has the best interests of South African rugby at heart.
It falls to the media to remind the Springbok management, and the Super 14 and provincial management, that their spin is only spin.
If the players are world-class, they need to show they are world-class. If they are not honed into provincial beaters and Super 14 beaters, then expecting them to be world beaters for two or three months of the year is a big ask.
For the record, Jake, I am very excited, despite my reservations. Please prove me wrong.