Rugby World Cup 2011

Play Butch at flyhalf

2011-09-13 15:06
Butch James (Gallo Images)

Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town - Butch James should be given another chance in his favoured No 10 jersey for South Africa when they encounter Fiji in their next World Cup Pool D match in Wellington on Saturday.

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He is just the sort of rugged, no-nonsense customer to lend essential defensive stability to the channel against the muscular, athletic Pacific Islanders who are, let’s face it, not averse to the sort of borderline illegal tackling style that once marked James’s play a little more routinely than it does today.

It seems an opportune occasion to “rest” Morné Steyn who, on second viewing of the champions’ stuttering Wales opener, did not appear quite as vulnerable in general play as some have made out, but is not best suited to playing these foes.

I would certainly retain him in the match-day 22 if possible, just in case the game is looking more ding-dong than the Boks would like and his particularly deadeye place-kicking might be a game-tilting factor late on if, disconcertingly, it comes to that.

But fielding James at flyhalf would also give the Springbok coaching staff a chance to examine once more the different elements James brings, also on attack, at a time when the predictability and conservatism of their game-plan is under scrutiny yet again.

With Jean de Villiers ruled out at inside centre, there is also an ideal opening, I believe, for Western Province colleague Juan de Jongh to be added to the mix: he is no stranger to operating in midfield alongside Jaque Fourie and may just further aid any quest to restore some sparkle and slipperiness to the backline as a whole.

De Jongh may not be the biggest unit in the world, but his commitment in the tackle is not in question: he goes in low and resolutely in the old-fashioned way and could curb the customary Fijian bid for great fluidity and Sevens-like running thrust.

Another option at No 12 might be Frans Steyn; put him alongside James and you wouldn’t fancy too many opponents to nonchalantly bump them off, would you?

But he played well at fullback against Wales - one of few Springboks to earn that label quite emphatically - so shifting him from that slot probably makes no sense at present.

Patrick Lambie’s versatility could also be considered … but again he seems the sort of player who might offer some aces off the bench if things get sticky.

The time may well have also come to finally take Bryan Habana, that eternal starter for franchise and country while not setting the planet alight, out of that mode and allow him to rethink and refocus.

It is one thing for him to constantly shake his head and lament so few front-foot opportunities coming his way - and, yes, they aren’t of late - but when the ever-audacious and spiky Francois Hougaard entered the fray at left wing during the fightback against Wales, it was noticeable how much appetite and awareness he showed in actually looking to create things.

If the Boks intend truly employing a squad system at this World Cup, and keeping as many players as possible match-sharp, it might make sense to give Gurthro Steenkamp a starting run at loosehead prop, because he badly needs solid time on the park, and use Beast Mtawarira for impact off the bench against the Fijians.

My own choice would be to prefer the vibrant, hard-nosed Bismarck du Plessis at hooker at the expense of captain John Smit, although against these opponents it may not matter too much if each gets, say, a half and in no special order.

The Boks could do a lot worse, if it is decided not to field Smit, than hand the inspiring Schalk Burger the leadership against Fiji - and maybe even give him a stab at No 8 ahead of Pierre Spies, with burly Willem Alberts getting a run at blindside flank and giving the underdogs some doses of their own punishing physical medicine.

If that doesn’t work too well, these two players can easily have their roles switched, after all.

My preferred Bok team to play Fiji:

15 Frans Steyn 14 JP Pietersen 13 Jaque Fourie 12 Juan de Jongh 11 Francois Hougaard 10 Butch James 9 Fourie du Preez 8 Schalk Burger (capt) 7 Willem Alberts 6 Heinrich Brüssow 5 Johann Muller 4 Danie Rossouw 3 Jannie du Plessis 2 Bismarck du Plessis 1 Gurthro Steenkamp

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