Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Div 'whiter than White'
Cape Town - Springbok coach Peter de Villiers probably started it with his cheeky reservations about midfield sensation Sonny Bill Williams a few weeks ago, but now New Zealanders appear to be firing back some verbal arrows of their own ahead of the World Cup.
A prominent piece in New Zealand national newspaper the Herald on Sunday, by sports editor Paul Lewis, has had a few stabs not only at the eccentric De Villiers, but also World Cup 2007-winning captain John Smit.
The writer heaped scorn on "Div" for his suggestion that rugby league convert Williams might be "found out" at highest levels and that his off-loads set a bad example to youngsters, venturing that the Crusaders favourite - likely to return to action after a hip injury for the Super Rugby playoff against the Sharks on Saturday - "is the single-most interesting development in rugby since Jonah Lomu".
But he did concede: "We shouldn't immediately assume that, because Div occasionally sounds like a real Angus - the 'g' is silent - he and the Boks won't know what they are doing.
"De Villiers has raised the most fascinating aspect of the coming Tri-Nations and then the World Cup: how will the All Blacks use Williams, how will he perform, and how will other sides stop him?
"Just because Div sounds like he left his brain at a braai, doesn't mean he can't have a go, bless him, at psychological warfare. It certainly doesn't mean the Boks won't know a sausage from a soup spoon."
In a roundabout way, Lewis also acknowledged that a likely retention of conservative strategies by the Boks was the right call, with their World Cup defence in mind.
"The South Africans, whether by accident or De Villiers, (have) renounced their ill-fated flirtation with 'progressive rugby' ... and have stuck to the conservative, no-frills, defence-based rugby that usually wins World Cups.
"Div is consigning himself more into the background so he doesn't come out with so many clangers; allowing his players to concentrate on the task rather than having to worry about the coach's next involuntary verbal vomit. Now De Villiers is looking more White than (Jake) White in terms of a conservative approach and steadfast loyalty to experienced players.
"The only question is whether 'experienced' might turn into 'exposed'. John Smit is a huge influence but may not even be able to get into the first XV."
Indeed, in light-hearted vein, the writer began his piece with the following joke:
"So Stephen Hawking goes to a party. He introduces himself to the first person he sees and asks what his IQ is.
'The man says '180'. So Hawking says 'that's great, we must talk about theoretical physics'. He moves on to another man and asks the same question. '140' comes the answer. 'Wonderful, we must chat about the mysteries of the universe.'
"He moves onto a third partygoer and asks the IQ question again. '54' the man responds. Hawking says: 'Ah, why haven't you replaced John Smit as captain, Peter?'"
Welcome to the pre-World Cup silly season...