Brenden Nel - SuperSport
Johannesburg - The Springboks face an impending crisis and may be forced to blood a young untested flyhalf on the November Grand Slam tour.
Butch James’s shoulder injury, which was confirmed to be worse than initially expected, leaves the Springbok selectors with a massive quandary, especially as they were planning to leave hard-working flyhalf Morne Steyn behind to rest up ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup.
This could mean a return to flyhalf for Racing Metro’s Francois Steyn, or a call-up for a rookie flyhalf untested who will have to marshall the Bok backline attack for the four Tests against the Home Nations and the game against the Barbarians.
James’s shoulder injury was confirmed to be worse than expected by his club Bath and the Bok back-up will only return to the field in November. Considering the frustration that Bath have had in getting him back injured from the Boks, the chances that they will almost immediately release him to play for the national side look very slim indeed.
Steyn has played virtually non-stop for two years now, not missing a Super 14 game and running himself ragged in the Springbok jersey as well. If any of the Boks deserve a rest, he is certainly one of them and would be looking forward to some time off in November.
But James’s absence, coupled with few options at 10 outside blooding a new Springbok, may mean he may have to make the tour, a decision which could turn out to be a catastrophe in terms of next year’s World Cup.
There is always the chance of using the other Steyn - Francois - at flyhalf, where he has played at Super 14 level before. Ruan Pienaar’s name also comes to mind, although he, after having a massive verbal blast at the Bok management in a local rugby magazine and currently playing scrumhalf for Ulster may not be considered for selection.
Either way, is it really fair to ask that any of these players move to a position they haven’t ever been comfortable with, and which they are not currently playing for their clubs in Europe? The alternative then would be to look at the Currie Cup, well aware of the dangers that form in the domestic competition can bring (remember last year’s November tour).
While youngsters Elton Jantjies and Patrick Lambie are the talk of the town with their impressive performances in the domestic competition, the most consistent player over the past few years is probably Jacques-Louis Potgieter.
If you go for youth you have to ask how much pressure you put on such a youngster playing his first test in front of a capacity crowd at the opening of the new Aviva Stadium in Dublin, facing Ireland in his first test.
It could turn out to be the best gamble of them all, but it also could give him such a knock in confidence that it takes a few seasons to recover from.
Either way, the Bok selection panel will have to do some deep thinking ahead of this year’s Grand Slam tour.
With James out and Steyn needing a rest, their choice could well go a long way to determining the Bok success in the Grand Slam tour.