This Friday is Differentby Bob Skinstad / 13.11.2009
For all those who watched the demolition of the Bok scrum in Leicester last week, I can assure you, tonight won’t be anything like last Friday. There are two main differences. The one thing is that the test team is settled and Peter De Villiers knows who he wants to pick. The other is that the midweek team is a mix ‘n match of people P-Divvy thinks could possibly make it, and players who are just on the fringes of his test team. So in that space it’s really difficult to pull together a perfectly performing team. But it is a good place to get a lot of answers.
Peter De Villiers said it to me, “You know what Bob, I’ve asked the question. I don’t have to ask it of the test team because they’re there to try and win every single game. Obviously that’s the goal of every game we play, but i’ve got the privilege of being able to ask the question with a midweek side. And this side got asked the question and I got a couple of answers. A couple of players put their hands up and said, ‘I’m keen to give everything to prove I’ve got what it takes’. But we also got a couple of resounding no’s.”
So how do you explain the total annihilation of the Bok scrum last week, and the subsequent call-up of Cheetah’s hard men, Adriaan Strauss and Wian Du Preez. Well think about it like this: I saw Jannie Du Plessis after the match and he genuinely has broken his hand. Chiliboy proved not to be ready, so that was a medical mistake and then Gurthro has gone over on his knee. And those guys have had a moerse long season. They probably didn’t want to be there at Leicester, they were under-prepared and then got asked all these really big questions. And they’ll go home now, rest up and come back much stronger for it. But the only three people in that Leicester line-up who knew what to expect from the Springboks were the front row. I mean they have 100 tests between them. I was listening to Will Greenwood and they are the starting front row from Leicester, whether the other guys had gone off to play for England or not. Italy wasn’t playing so Castro Giovanni started and Mefin Davies is not playing for Wales anymore because he’s 37, but he’s still a flippen good international hooker and he’s very experienced. So they may have been a surprise for everyone else, but in their minds they knew exactly how to pulverize this Bok scrum.
Now a lot of people in the press have been slamming P-Divvy for not choosing any tried and tested combinations in that mid-week team. But you’ve got to be a bit chameleonic here. You’ve got to look in two directions at the same time. Can you bring in a 9 and 10 into the midweek team and still support the test team? No you can’t because you’ve got a back up flyhalf who he really believes in and you’ve got two back up scrumhalves. So where are you going to find a second settled 9 & 10 combination? Can you bring in a centre combination? No, because you got half the back up centre combination on the bench already and one of the back three.
People have asked why hasn’t he gone for combinations, but to be fair, he has. He’s got Gurthro and Chili together, he’s got John, Bismarck and Beast together in the test team. The only combination he hasn’t picked is the Cheetahs front row. And they’re here now. So they were clearly in his plans. So I’m not going to kow-tow to the idea that there are loads of great combinations that he’s left behind. Because there aren’t really. The two Bulls locks are here. None of the other locks have really put their hands up. And their replacements are Danie Rossouw and the next tallest man in the country is Andries Bekker. And Bekker was outstanding on Friday night.
Then Ruan Pienaar had a shocker. I’ve been there, and that’s why I feel comfortable saying he had a shocker.You also get guys who’ll never admit they h
played badly. But, I mean, Ruan gets just as disappointed with his performance as the next guy. And he didn’t have a bad first half, but he just started kicking out of hand terribly and taking the wrong options. It was a really tough night for him.
And that’s exacerbated by the big question hanging over his head. Where are they going to settle him? He’s back up scrumhalf at the moment, and Francois Hougaard is clearly the back up scrumhalf in the future. So where are they going to settle Ruan? It’s a bloody tough thing to do. Someone asked me on one of the blogs, who is going to back up scrumhalf and flyhalf positions if Fourie and Morne go off. And that’s like asking you to put seven props on the bench in case the front row breaks down twice. It’s ridiculous. Every eventuality can’t be covered from the bench. But Ruan is a player who gives you lots of options, so you can have a 5-2 split on the bench. The coach has a made an advanced strategic call here. Not a simple player call.
Now let’s look at the midfield. It’s no secret that I think Adi Jacobs is a very exciting player. So I’m not going to step back from defending him. And there are certain quota and colour requirements in South African rugby and Adi Jacobs fulfills some of those. And that’s a positive because I think he’s good enough to be there on merit alone. In fact last year he was probably our best backline player. The trouble is that he doesn’t directly replace Jean De Villiers as a big, strong, hard hitting centre. He’s a more deft hands kind of player. And that might come to play if the conditions are dry, but at the moment it’s looking cold and wet. So that might be an issue. But I have a lot of faith in Adi, so I think he’ll come to the party and I love the little nuances to his game. The guy that I would love to see somewhere in the mix, and I’m pleased for Wynand Olivier because he’s had a fantastic season, but I think we’re missing Brad Barritt. He’s off playing for the England Saxons and he was outstanding for the Sharks as a 21 year old. He’s 6 foot 3, he’s electrically fast, and the way things stand he’s probably going to end up playing against South Africa for a very long time. And that makes my heart sore. He’s a specialist inside centre and he’s big and strong and bullying. He reminds me a lot of Pieter Muller. I mean could you imagine if you had him at inside, Jaque Fourie at outside center, Francois Steyn at Fullback, JP and Bryan on the wings. That’s a backline where everyone weighs over 100 kilos and is lightning fast.
We’ll see him on Tuesday night at Saracens and I just hope by then we’re not rueing the fact that he wasn’t in our midfield.
Now let’s take a look at the Frogs. Their flyhalf is Trinh-Duc, he’s a bit up and down and the public here aren’t completely rallied behind him, but they love him as a performer. The fact that their coach has gone for 7 guys from Toulouse just completely shows the French psyche. It’s hometown madness, he really wants to get the home crowd behind this bunch of players, they’ve got their backs to the wall a little bit because they haven’t had the greatest results of late. And I think he’s really trying to psyche them up for a hard physical encounter. Making Thierry Dusatoir the captain, bringing back Harinordoquoy and there have already been a lot of calls in the media about Shaun Sowerby who has been playing some amazing rugby for Toulouse. He’s already said to the French media that he’d take back his Springbok cap to play for France. He’s committed himself here. The French coach is really trying to rally everybody. And if we’re loosely talking about why this Friday will be different to last, it’s because no one in Leicester was really making a noise. They were quiet, they went about their business and surprised the Springboks. I think if the Springboks are surprised this Friday then I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.