rugby fans get their knickers in a knot

Quite understandably rugby fans get their knickers in a knot over occasions as emotional as a World Cup squad announcement. This is good because it shows passion for the Boks is as strong as ever, but so often fans worry about things they read into a squad selection that never end up transpiring.

Put another way, there is so much rugby still to be played before the real World Cup begins in the quarter-finals that the Springbok starting line-up – and the greater 30-man squad – will inevitably see important changes in certain positions. It has happened to every single country that has competed in every World Cup. Certain tricky situations often work themselves out by the time the team gets to the business end of the competition.

The Pool games take their toll and by the time you reach the quarters, on average at least four key players have gone home in tears and been replaced either from the fringe players in the squad or even from the shortlisted blokes back at home.

Ask Jean de Villiers about the tenuous nature of World Cup participation. He has just 20 minutes of Rugby World Cup game time behind his name but he could well have played five games in 2003 and seven in 2007. He was seriously crocked just before the squad left for Australia in 2003 and then tore a bicep muscle half an hour into the first Pool match of 2007, against the rugged Samoans.

Interestingly, Jake White promoted Francois Steyn to inside centre, a position he was not familiar with, and the youngster became one of the stars of the Boks’ campaign.

Pierre Spies did not even make it onto the plane for Paris – five days before take-off he was diagnosed with a blood disorder. It is an irony that those who are so mean-spirited towards John Smit in his latter days forget that he (successfully) implored Jake White to replace Spies with his apprentice hooker at the Sharks in Bismarck du Plessis, because he felt the youngster could add value that had initially been ignored by the selectors.

That is the kind of selfless team-man Smit is, and why his coach recognises that his contribution to the team dynamic goes beyond a straight head-to head with Du Plessis, who in Port Elizabeth last week behaved petulantly when he came off the field after being substituted by Smit.

Sure, you can put that down to his competitive nature but he would have known the pre-game plan of when Smitty was going to come on.

There is room for both of them in Bok Town right now – neither has to saddle up and leave – and the Boks will be the better for it because Peter de Villiers has shown that he can manage the situation of having a brilliant leader (who is still a very good player) and a brilliant player competing for the same position. Why are people so hell-bent on making it a slap-leather, shoot-out at dawn between the two?! Take them both for the greater good of the Springboks, for heaven’s sake.

Smit is a gracious and dignified leader. If he knew that he could not contribute vitally to the defence of the Webb Ellis Cup, if he felt he was no longer the glue that held the Boks together he would not get on that plane.

But we digress. Another example of injury closing one door and opening another was the flyhalf position in 2007. Most fans have forgotten that the first-choice flyhalf when the Boks left for Paris was Andre Pretorius, who had saved Jake White’s skin with a last-minute penalty goal against the All Blacks in Rustenburg to halt a five-game losing streak. He arrived with a suspect hamstring injury and after being on the bench in the first two Pool games, started against Tonga and had such a poor game that White went for Butch James, who proved to be a revelation for the Springboks.

No doubt the 2011 World Cup campaign will have its own dramatic twists and turns, and some of today’s stars will drift off the stage into the wings and be replaced by new heroes. It is the way of the World Cup.

by Mike Greenaway

About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

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