Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Bok opening for Grant?
Cape Town – The likely absence of Butch James could open the door to a Springbok return for Peter Grant at flyhalf on the Grand Slam tour at the end of the year.
It was confirmed this week that a shoulder injury has proved worse than expected for veteran Bath pivot James, almost certainly keeping him out of the Bok picture for a tour in which his experience of -- and suitability to -- British and Irish winter conditions would have been a very handy asset indeed.
That would have been especially so because the Boks intend resting incumbent No 10 Morne Steyn, among other overworked senior personnel, for the trip.
Precocious Absa Currie Cup talents Elton Jantjies and Patrick Lambie ought to be strongly in the running for squad selection if their current sparkling form continues, but the Bok brains trust will presumably want either (or both) of them to be accompanied by a much more senior figure in the key position as well.
Playing your rugby on the generally much faster, harder and drier pitches of South Africa – especially after such a mild winter here -- is very different to negotiating the heavier turf, howling winds and sometimes driving rain of the northern hemisphere in November and December, where more of a grinding “percentages” game can be the route to success.
And a player as well-equipped as James to operate in such an environment is the Stormers flyhalf Peter Grant, given the 2010 Currie Cup off by his Newlands-based chief employers as he samples a stint for Kobe in Japan.
The 26-year-old “Bash” already has five Springbok appearances to his credit and his willingness to carry the ball into contact areas and put his body on the line in the tackling department are long-renowned aspects of his makeup – and far from the only ones, as he also sparked the Stormers backline pretty effectively during the franchise’s best ever Super 14 campaign earlier this year.
Grant is dying to pull on the green-and-gold once more, and was at pains to reiterate only a few weeks ago: “It is written in my contract here (in Japan) that I will be released if South Africa need me.”
SARU’s strategic communications manager Andy Colquhoun confirmed to Sport24 on Wednesday that his club would have to free him if necessary.
“There is no impediment to him being chosen, should the selectors want him.
“However, the Ireland match (November 6, the tour opener) falls outside IRB Regulation 9, which specifies the release window as the final three Saturdays in November, so a special arrangement would have to be made in that case, should he be wanted.”
The Boks play Wales on November 13, Scotland on November 20 and England on the 27th.
Other reasonably experienced options for South Africa at No 10 would be utility customers Francois Steyn of Racing Metro or even Ruan Pienaar, who recently quit the Sharks to pursue a career in the “north” with Ulster.
And there may even be some thought, depending on how the Currie Cup pans out, to taking Morne Steyn on tour now, despite current intentions to the contrary.
The Blue Bulls are far from assured of a semi-final place, having won five and lost five games thus far and lying in fifth spot on the table.
Smart money suggest they will yet qualify, but if they don’t, then Steyn would have the luxury of a three-week rest period during the knockout phase between October 16 and 30: he is among many senior Boks presently ordered out of Currie Cup round-robin activity anyway.