Div starts salvage operation
Johannesburg - Embattled South Africa coach Peter de Villiers begins his countdown this weekend to a make-or-break tour of the British Isles with a two-day national squad camp.
Although told to carry on after a disastrous Tri-Nations tournament yielded just one win from six outings against the New Zealand All Blacks and Australian Wallabies, the Springbok handler knows his job is still on the line.
The world champions face Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England on consecutive Saturdays from November 6 and leading South African rugby writer Michael Greenaway believes De Villiers needs at least three Test wins to survive.
"To lose all four Tests would place De Villiers and his coaching staff in an untenable position. I believe they need at least three wins to carry on," the Independent Newspapers group writer said.
"Ireland in Dublin is a tough start and Wales in Cardiff could go either way. Scotland appears a slightly easiest task, but then there is England at Twickenham, where we do not have a good record."
De Villiers, who became the first black Boks coach when he succeeded 2007 World Cup winner Jake White two years ago, has acknowledged the dire situation by calling up his front-line soldiers for the Johannesburg camp.
The original plan was to rest weary stars like lock Victor Matfield and flyhalf Morne Steyn and experiment with fringe players ahead of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand next September and October.
But after surviving a post-Tri Nations grilling from anxious national rugby bosses, De Villiers did a u-turn and included many players he said would be rested in a training squad cut to 38 by an injury to centre Wynand Olivier.
"The fact that about a dozen players who were not expected to tour have now been included is a sure sign of the pressure facing De Villiers and his assistants," noted Greenaway.
Few decisions Cape Town-based De Villiers makes escape media criticism, and the timing of the camp and the choice of players have seen him come under renewed fire.
The Johannesburg Star queried staging a camp in the middle of a two-week build-up to the highlight of the domestic season, the October 30 Currie Cup final between Sharks and Western Province in Durban.
Virtually half the squad come from Sharks or Province and the concern is that the minds of players from the finalists will be far removed from the Bok 'Grand Slam' tour.
Since an injury ruled loose forward and 'fetcher' Heinrich Brussouw out of Bok consideration for this year, the back-row choices of De Villiers have almost inevitably sparked an outcry.
This time he picked Bulls' Deon Stegmann, an injury absentee from much of the Currie Cup campaign, but omitted 2010 Springbok Francois Louw of Province and Currie Cup star Keegan Daniel of Sharks.
De Villiers did win approval for including three young backs who have shone in the domestic championship - play-anywhere Patrick Lambie and left wing Lwazi Mvovo of Sharks and Golden Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies.
But whether they get a chance to shine in Dublin, Cardiff, Edinburgh or London is questionable with De Villiers and assistants Dick Muir and Gary Gold likely to rely on Matfield and other Test-hardened Boks to save their skins.