Boks sweat over Du Preez
Fourie du Preez (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Confusion reigned in the Sunday media over whether Japan-based key scrumhalf Fourie du Preez is available for the Springbok end-of-year tour.
Some prominent writers either in newspapers or online had him in their speculated tour parties - the squad is to be revealed by coach Heyneke Meyer
late on Monday afternoon - and others surprisingly sidestepped the veteran who made an overwhelmingly positive impact in his comeback appearances during the Castle Rugby Championship.
The short answer, Sport24 has established from Bok sources, is that the 31-year-old is, indeed, officially available ... but the subject of an undisclosed fitness concern that will determine whether he can make the three-match assignment (Wales, Scotland and France) or not.
Clarity is expected very shortly, although there has been fairly widespread speculation that Western Province’s hitherto uncapped Louis Schreuder, 23, is going to be one of three likely designated No 9s on tour anyway - both the Sunday Times and Rapport suggest as much, presumably based on some smoke signals from the Bok inner circle.
Should the Paarl-born player earn the nod, it would probably be strictly as the intended third choice; both Du Preez and Ulster-based Ruan Pienaar are likely to be well ahead in the pecking order.
If Du Preez, who still best fits the bill as a true “general” of the position for the Boks, cannot tour, another vacancy would occur at scrumhalf and there are plenty of critics who would protest that all of Jano Vermaak
(Toulouse), Charl McLeod and Cobus Reinach
(both Sharks) and Castres-based Rory Kockott, who earned the French Top 14 players’ player of the year mantle for last season, are more deserving than Schreuder.
On the WP man’s side would be his relative youth, however, as Meyer is well aware that several of the others listed are getting on just a bit and it would be in his long-term interests to start blooding someone (domestically-based, into the bargain) who can learn from the more experienced scrumhalves in the Bok set-up.
Reinach is only 23, like Schreuder, but the Bok coach has seemed relatively lukewarm about his credentials up to this point - besides, the 30-year-old McLeod has been mostly keeping him out of the Sharks’ starting XV and played a rousing, demonically-motivated Currie Cup final where he scored two tries, gave WP all sorts of problems with his in-field tactical dinks, and eclipsed the labouring Schreuder all-round.
Indeed, another question worth asking is whether Meyer may be quietly putting any Schreuder plans on “hold” after watching Saturday’s Sharks-dominated showpiece; the player’s risky long pass, intercepted by the alert McLeod, gave the visitors an early head of steam in the final and they never really surrendered that grip thereafter.
An alternative view would be that the best coaches are not necessarily swayed by public sentiment, or even provincial form, if they simply have a good gut feel about a player and that Meyer may not be budged if he really does fancy taking a stab at Schreuder for “development” purposes.
But if Schreuder does tour, expect an understandable outcry: he is another player not always guaranteed his franchise’s first-choice status in the slot - there has been something of a ping-pong between him and Nic Groom for No 9 at Newlands ever since Dewaldt Duvenage
left for Perpignan earlier in the season.
Indeed, watching the Currie Cup final, it was difficult not to escape the feeling that if the Stormers/WP want to throw off a growing reputation for being decent challengers for major honours but more often than not bridesmaids in the final analysis, scrumhalf is one position where recruitment is likely to be contemplated by the bosses.
Neither Schreuder nor Groom have yet shown any special signs of genuine X-factor, although both do have age on their side to become more assertive factors in both Currie Cup and Super Rugby.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing