Battle for Bok No 10 narrows
Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - The omission of Peter Grant from the 50-man Springbok World Cup preliminary squad announced on Monday has narrowed the debate over who will be filling the role of pivot in New Zealand in August and September.
Grant, the DHL Stormers flyhalf, was a favourite of many critics when he was starring for the Cape side in their winning run at the start of the competition. At the end of March, several Springbok barometres included the name of the Maritzburg College old boy.
However, the solid form displayed by another former Maritzburg College star, Butch James, since his arrival back from the United Kingdom, coupled with the resurgence of the other Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjes, and the X-factor offered by Patrick Lambie as a utility back, have now pushed Grant out of the equation.
The 50-man group was drawn up to satisfy IRB requirements for a preliminary squad as the date of the kick-off to the 2011 World Cup draws nearer. Springbok coach Peter de Villiers says that players can come from outside of the group, which is true for this list is by no means definitive, but it would appear unlikely that Grant will be in the 30-man World Cup squad if he cannot make a group of 50.
Of course, Grant’s long period of absence from the field due to injury did not help his cause. It might well have been a case of out of sight and out of mind for the national selectors, for apart from a second half walkabout in a comeback match against the Chiefs last month, Grant has mostly been solid in the Bok No10 when he has played.
Grant played for the Boks in the Tri-Nations in the build-up to the last World Cup, and was also part of the first group of players called up at the beginning of De Villiers’ reign as coach. However Grant never got to start in 2008 and then dropped out of the squad. Ironically James was not part of the initial De Villiers plans but was called up at the behest of senior players and played most of the 2008 Tri-Nations before he essentially exiled himself by refusing to move back to South Africa from Bath.
James is now the front-runner for the Bok No10 jersey at the World Cup, a position he filled at the last World Cup in France in 2007. It is understood that all James needed to do was prove that he could keep pace with the southern hemisphere game, which he has done since his return to Super Rugby with the Lions.
James’ ability to be a strong presence at the gainline and thus bring the players around him into the game on attack is what gives him the advantage over the incumbent, Morne Steyn, and his experience edges out other players such as Lambie and Jantjes. Another squad member, Ruan Pienaar, has international flyhalf experience but is unlikely to be played away from his preferred position of scrumhalf.
Grant still has a chance to impress the selectors in the play-off stages of the Super Rugby season, and told a Sunday newspaper that he thought he would have a chance of forcing his way into the national squad if the Stormers win the competition. He made an assured return to Super Rugby for the Stormers against the Cheetahs this past weekend, contributing 24 of the 44 points the Stormers scored in their 44-34 win.
Grant was not the only surprise omission from the squad, which includes two new overseas based players in the form of BJ Botha and Johann Muller, both based in Ireland and both veterans of the 2007 World Cup triumph.
In Durban for instance eyebrows will surely be raised at the non-appearance of Keegan Daniel on the list. The Sharks flanker has been in excellent form of late and made a significant difference to the Sharks’ performance against the Bulls at Loftus at the weekend in comparison to their recent clash in Durban, when he was absent due to suspension.
Duane Vermeulen has been included in the group even though he will be out for six to nine weeks due as he recuperates from a knee operation that he will undergo on Tuesday.
Players who missed out on the recent Durban planning session, when a considerably smaller group was called up, but who are part of the expanded squad include Alistair Hargreaves. Ricky Januarie, Ryan Kankowski, Zane Kirchner, Francois Louw and Deon Stegmann.
It needs to be noted that this is no more than a list of names, and the group named is not actually gathering for a camp. However the Bok coach has confirmed that the Tri-Nations squad will be named from this group.
Preliminary World Cup squad:
John Smit (captain), Victor Matfield (vice-captain), Willem Alberts, Gio Aplon, Andries Bekker, Bjorn Basson, Bakkies Botha, BJ Botha, Heinrich Brussow, Schalk Burger, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Fourie du Preez, Jaque Fourie, Dean Greyling, Bryan Habana, Alistair Hargreaves, Francois Hougaard, Adi Jacobs, Butch James, Elton Jantjies, Ricky Januarie, Ashley Johnson, Ryan Kankowski, Zane Kirchner, Werner Kruger, Pat Lambie, Francois Louw, Tendai Mtawarira, Johann Muller, Lwazi Mvovo, Odwa Ndungane, Wynand Olivier, Coenie Oosthuizen, Ruan Pienaar, JP Pietersen, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Danie Rossouw, Juan Smith, Pierre Spies, Gurthro Steenkamp, Deon Stegmann, Francois Steyn, Morne Steyn, Adriaan Strauss, Flip van der Merwe, Duane Vermeulen.