JJ Harmse

Pat on the back for Peter

2011-04-07 15:17
Sport24 columnist JJ Harmse (File)
JJ Harmse

Springbok coach Peter de Villiers made it pretty clear, shortly after he started his tenure as national coach, that he will not be interested in overseas-based players when he picked his Test teams.

For the majority of the time he stuck to that policy, but reality and practicality forced his hand soon afterwards.

During the November tour of 2009, he had no option but to use CJ van der Linde and BJ Botha who were both based in Ireland at the time and also called in Jean de Villiers from Limerick when injury struck his Test team shortly before facing Ireland.

At the time it was simply more practical to get Jean de Villiers to drive a couple of hours from his Munster base, than to get Juan de Jongh to fly from South Africa to sit on the bench for a Test against Ireland.

I have in previous forums asked for exactly that - a more pragmatic approach - when it comes to overseas based players who can give local players much needed rest when we have to tour Europe, and it's also helpful to have someone, like it was with Botha and Van der Linde for example, who knows the Irish scrum well, to provide some input.

Also, let us not forget, none of Victor Matfield, John Smit, Jean de Villiers, Peter Grant, Gary Botha or Stefan Terblanche returned from their overseas stints as worse players than before they left. Actually, I would like to suggest that all of them have showed that they benefited from that experience.

A week or so ago, it was reported that a Premier XV, consisting of overseas based players will play the Kings in Port Elizabeth on June 4.

A couple of Springboks like Pedrie Wannenburg, Michael Claassens, Gcobani Bobo and Brent Russell will be among them, while a couple of former provincial players (Sam Gerber, Conrad Barnard, Corniel van Zyl and Willie Wepener to name a few) will showcase their improvements since their moves abroad.

Peter de Villiers, to his credit, will attend the match. It is hard to see more than a handful of these guys getting into the coach’s final 50-man RWC squad to be announced two weeks later, but there is always a chance.

We certainly can do with Russell at his best, Claassens has showed tremendous leadership and experience at Bath and Wannenburg has always been much more influential that he was given credit for back home.

One of the most interesting names to me on that list is that of Petrus du Plessis, who left South Africa early in his career and is now anchoring the Saracens scrum.

His scrum coach over there, former Springbok Cobus Visagie, has certainly talked up his product and was not shy to say that Du Plessis should be playing Test rugby for South Africa.

Visagie’s talk is certainly not cheap and although Du Plessis has certainly impressed while playing in televised matches, it will be great to see him play in South Africa again.

The ‘Exiles’ squad that has been mooted is certainly a very strong one and could have the beating of the Kings despite the fact that they will only be together for a couple of days and most of those players will be at the end of a long season.

But the opportunity to again play at home against local opposition and in front of the national coach should frisk them up in no time.

De Villiers firmly believes that players are getting slower in the Northern Hemisphere and he may be right. The fact of the matter is that, especially with forward play, there are areas for local forwards to improve their game.

Scrumming is one of them. It is interesting to note how many South African props are plying their trade abroad and the result of that is clear for all to see at local level, where the depth at tighthead is not good.

Yet, abroad we have the likes of Botha, Du Plessis, Pat Barnard, Daan Human, Brian Mujati and Faan Rautenbach, to name a few, all playing their rugby in the rain and mud.

If we really want to win the World Cup, we need to know that our team going there has been picked from all possible candidates.

The willingness of De Villiers to have a look at what the ‘Exiles’ have to offer, is certainly a step in the right direction and one that needs to be applauded. We have to give ourselves every chance to win the World Cup.

Read JJ every Sunday in Rapport.

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