Although the jury is still out on whether
Pierre Spies’ return to the rugby field is bound to restore his reputation as
South Africa’s best No 8 or whether he’ll remain in the shadow of Duane
Vermeulen, Nizaam Carr and even Warren Whitely, he has taken the bold step of
publicly declaring his full confidence in a Bulls team that has unexpectedly
lost its first two home Super Rugby fixtures of the season.
Some would say that as captain he has no
option but to display confidence, despite the unconvincing performance of a
Springbok-heavy Bulls side. However, I
would rather like to focus on Pierre Spies the player and not the Bulls.
I have always been a huge fan of Pierre
Spies. I first saw him play as a 17-year-old-for Afrikaans Hoër Seunsskool in Pretoria. He was an unbelievable athlete, fast, skilful and passionate about the
game. At the time I was also privileged
to have met his dad, the late Pierre Spies Snr. Spies Snr. spoke with immense pride of his son who, back then, was
tipped to become the next big thing in Springbok rugby. Having watched him play for Affies, I could
understand why. He reminded me of one of
my erstwhile heroes, Andy Ripley, the lengthy English No 8 that toured South
Africa with the famous 1974 Lions. There
was something about this youngster that screamed Springbok. Pretoria was abuzz with this talent and the
Blue Bulls couldn’t wait for him to grow up and play for them.
He graduated from high school more or less
at the time when Heyneke Meyer was appointed as Blue Bulls coach. A few years later
Meyer was appointed as the Bulls Super rugby couch and for some inexplicable
reason decided that Spies was destined to be the next “Jonah Lomu” and
turned the youthful No 8 into a wing. I often pondered about how much experience (in the No 8 position)
Spies missed out on during those formative years of his professional rugby
career. Truth be told, two irreplaceable
years were wasted; two seasons of exposure in Super Rugby and the Currie Cup as No 8, down the drain. Instead, he
battled to adapt to the wing position as he hardly ever got the ball and found
himself watching the game being played from the sidelines (literally).
Spies gallantly tried to make the switch
work, but it was clear that the experiment failed dismally and after two wasted
seasons and a few traumatic experiences in Super Rugby, Pierre decided to
return to his preferred position of No 8.
Over the next three years he showed the calibre
of man he was as he gradually fought his way back into national contention,
reaching top form in 2009 when the Springboks won the Tri-Nations with Spies as one of the stand-out players. He excelled as a ball carrier, primarily in channel two and three,
attacking the spaces out wide and notching up hundreds of running yards in the
process, he was bad news for the opposition. However, as the game evolved, with a shift in focus from attack to defence
and tactical kicking becoming a game strategy, the role of the roaming No 8 became limited and he was required to carry the ball down channel one or
down the middle in an attempt to suck in defenders. The strong, fast running, skilful Pierre
Spies was effectively neutralised.
Notwithstanding this and even though the
Bulls have made a stuttering start to this year’s Super Rugby competition, I am
still encouraged by the positive attitude and comments expressed by Pierre
Spies about the chances of his team. With the Rugby World Cup looming Spies has very little time to proof
that he deserves to be in the World Cup squad because he has a lot of lost
ground to make up on the incumbent Duane Vermeulen and his understudies Nizaam
Carr, Warren Whitely and Ryan Kankowski. If you have seen Pierre Spies at his best, you will know that this is
not impossible and with a few top class performances in Super Rugby he might
just convince the Springbok coach that he is back to his best and ready to take
on the best at the World Cup.
There is only a small window of opportunity
for players like Spies to stake their claim for the World Cup. For the sake of the Bulls and the Springboks
I hope that Pierre Spies is one of those that is able to raise their game to
the standard required by Heyneke Meyer.
Gary Boshoff is a former SARU player (1984-1986)
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