Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – There is, of course, always a strong case to be
made for a new coach starting with a clean slate ... but I am not at all averse
to the suggestion that Heyneke Meyer may turn to veteran Fourie du Preez as
some sort of bridging option for the Springboks both as captain and scrumhalf.
As much as a clean-out of long-serving stocks can (eventually,
anyway) be an influential key to a successful future, a good part of me also
subscribes to the belief that such a move doesn’t necessarily have to be a sweeping
one; that you can “look backwards to go forward” to some extent.
If it is true that the shrewd-thinking Meyer is, indeed,
hoping to coax the No 9 general back into the domestic fold with a view to
extending his 62-Test career with the Springboks, I fancy that there could be
For one thing, it doesn’t seem, reading between the lines,
that the coach intends stretching Du Preez’s possible “comeback” to another
World Cup in 2015.
But if he suspects he might manage to winkle, say, two further
good years out of the globally-respected half-back, his instincts may well be
For I share the belief that Du Preez, who has played so much
of his franchise rugby under the watchful eye of Meyer at Loftus, may still
have an international shelf life.
Just in age terms, he is not even 30 yet ... that event
happens in late March.
And when you consider that two of the other more iconic
modern scrumhalves, George Gregan of Australia and New Zealand’s Justin
Marshall, were still playing Test rugby considerably beyond that landmark, the
credibility of a case for Du Preez soldiering on only stiffens.
Gregan was a ripe old 34 when he earned the last of his
incredible 139 Wallaby caps, whilst Marshall’s last All Blacks Test came in
July 2005, only a month shy of his 32nd birthday.
Yes, there are people who say Du Preez showed signs at the
2011 World Cup of slowdown, and that argument may well hold some water ... yet
it was always unlikely that the No 9 would be able to match his giddy standards
of victorious 2007, when he was at his physical peak.
The trouble when you are a slightly ageing customer is that
critics tend to only sharpen their poisonous pencils when, for instance, you do
not seem to be “at home” as a swift pass is required from a ruck, immediately assuming
that you are off the pace – 22-year-old scrumhalves are sometimes absent on
these occasions, too, for various reasons.
No, I mostly saw enough from Du Preez in the New
Zealand-hosted spectacle to satisfy myself that he remains an influential and
uniquely astute character in his key position.
Remember that the then-Bulls man had missed out on several
weeks of Super Rugby earlier in the season after tearing a medial ligament in
his right knee in a collision with a Bulls team-mate, and was a little short of
a gallop when the senior Boks finally saw Test action in the second part of the
Tri-Nations, immediately ahead of RWC 2011.
While Francois Hougaard obviously offers a potentially
exciting alternative as a new No 9 starter for the Springboks – he eclipses Du
Preez now for pure nippiness and “X-factor” – his versatility is such that
Meyer may still, for the time being, prefer his stationing among the
substitutes, able to offer great second-half impact either at scrumhalf or
Behind Hougaard, I believe it can be argued that South
Africa’s Test-class depth at No 9 isn’t quite what we might like it to be: the
Sharks’ Charl McLeod went a little bit backwards last year whilst a gut feel
says someone like Dewaldt Duvenage, first choice for the SA conference-winning
Stormers, may not be capable of making the leap from decent Super Rugby
competitor to Test match force.
As far as the Bok
captaincy is concerned, at least for the short- to medium term, I am well
disposed to the idea of Schalk Burger getting it, but wouldn’t be resentful at
all if Meyer entrusted the soft-spoken but vastly respected Du Preez with the
The one proviso I would have, for a possible Bok return by
Du Preez, is that he return to our first-class landscape as an essential accompaniment:
more and more big-name players are being lured to Japanese club rugby, where
the scrumhalf presently represents Suntory Goliath, but it is probably still a
less than ideal environment for anyone wishing to play Test rugby for one of
the superpowers – the gulf in standards is just too big.
Bottom line? Whether it is also as skipper or not, I still
believe Petrus Fourie du Preez – if his conditioning is really good and mind
genuinely eager -- would be a reassuring presence at scrumhalf for South
Africa, come the first of three Tests against England in Durban on June 9 ...
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