Springboks

Allow Heyneke a hunch pick!

2013-10-29 18:00
Louis Schreuder (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Perhaps this needs to be established straight away: I probably wouldn’t have selected Louis Schreuder, either.

But why the barrage of undignified wailing about the presence of the young scrumhalf, who I am dead certain didn’t deviously slip a few notes with Madiba imagery on them into Heyneke Meyer’s pocket in order to crack the Springbok tour nod?

The way people have been reacting – albeit that hysteria is a well-entrenched phenomenon in our rugby landscape, among press and public alike – almost suggests some kind of debilitating virus has been planted in the 32-strong Bok party with the installation of the rookie.

And all this for a player who may well find himself primarily going along for a “learning” ride, and only third in the No 9 pecking order behind Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar, who reassuringly have a combined harvest of 136 Bok caps and huge experience of northern hemisphere conditions.

Those two also boast 60 years between them, at 31 and 29 respectively ... so it does make a heap of sense for Meyer to take along a much younger scrumhalf as well, for future planning purposes if nothing else at this point.

Yes, it could just as easily have been Piet van Zyl or Cobus Reinach of the other new-generation No 9s in the domestic environment, but just like Schreuder they have their imperfections: Van Zyl is mercurial but sometimes error-prone and a dubious option-taker, whilst Reinach is presently playing second fiddle to impressively in-form Charl McLeod at the Sharks.

Why not McLeod, then? The simple reason is that he is 30 – and has already sampled Bok tour duty anyway, in 2011 – and there is little point in Meyer taking three relative veterans ... is there?

Similarly, those who advocate Jano Vermaak (Toulouse) or Rory Kockott (Castres) may have forgotten to factor in that this would mean all three tour scrumhalves being overseas-based, which is counter-productive as well, by my book, and might have tested SARU’s tolerance.

Giving Schreuder the nod for this particular exercise also hardly means that Meyer is dead set on the Western Province player further up the line – if nothing else, it could serve as a wake-up call to the other young guns in the position, who may have initially felt they were running on the inside lane, that they need to stiffen their acts a bit.

In short, no fresh-faced scrumhalf has genuinely grasped the nettle and Schreuder, for his abominable sins, has slipped through a gap and into short-term favour after first impressing the national coach during squad sessions ahead of the June window.

Meyer makes no apology: he says he believes Schreuder “fits in with the way we want to play” ... surely the coach has a right to act on a hunch over a particular customer?

It is perfectly true that the Province man bombed rather glaringly before a full house at Newlands in Saturday’s Currie Cup final, where his intercepted pass saw his team quickly on the back foot at 0-10 and set the tone for a day of collective under-delivery and crazy mistakes by the supposed favourites, eventually well beaten by a brilliantly switched-on and tactically smart Sharks outfit.

But good on Meyer for not succumbing to the fragile, knee-jerk logic – far too many couch-potato critics do – of abandoning his Schreuder intentions just because of one bad game.

It is astonishing too (um, well, no, it isn’t, really) just how many self-appointed experts have rashly slapped all their currency on the Currie Cup final as yardstick for Bok end-of-year selection: one particularly deluded individual even muttered Eben Etzebeth should have been cold-shouldered as a result of Province’s overall back-foot status at the weekend.

I can tell you it would have utterly bewildered the Wallabies or even title-winning All Blacks, who felt the talented lock’s full force in this year’s Castle Rugby Championship, had that monster specimen Etzebeth suddenly been replaced in Bok plans by raw Sharks opposite number Peet Marais from the domestic final!

His most vociferous detractors would find it hard, broadly speaking, to rationally argue that Meyer, hardly deep into his second year yet as national coach, has dragged the cause damagingly southward: South Africa have already negotiated one end-of-year tour under his command unbeaten, hugely improved to credible runners-up this year rather than innocuous third in the aforesaid Championship, and advanced to clear-cut second at present on the IRB global rankings.

Meyer must be doing quite a few things right.

He should be allowed the liberty of one or two left-field picks in a big, mostly very well-balanced tour party.

Perhaps those so hatefully wishing Schreuder nothing but ill-fortune would do well to chew on the multitude of kookoo, randomly in-and-out Bok selections in those dark old days of the early 2000s.

I hope all 32 Springboks fighting the cause abroad in November prosper, and it’s gratifying to suspect at least a few others share my view.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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