Cape Town - In an exclusive
interview, former Springbok flyhalf BUTCH JAMES on who he would pick to start at No 10
for South Africa, Jean de Villiers’ miraculous recovery
and Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash in Brisbane.
asked: Peter de Villiers wrote of you, “I don’t know any other player who was
prepared to suffer so much physical agony for his team.” How were you able to
play through the pain barrier?
James: When I saw the appreciation on my teammates’
faces for my efforts, it took away any physical pain I might have felt at the
time. It was pleasing to enjoy a good game from a personal perspective and be
rewarded with individual accolades, but I always put team success ahead of my
own ambitions. Rugby is all about the team dynamic, and the moment you lose
sight of that, you are going to start playing badly. I definitely agree that the
whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
asked: You once tore your ACL. What impressed you about Jean de Villiers’
James: It’s quite amazing how quickly he has
recovered. I had breakfast with him three months ago, and he was already
jumping and running around. Jean is a hard worker and puts in a lot of effort
behind the scenes. That paid off for him when he returned to the field for the
final 20 minutes against the World XV. It was great to see him back, and I hope
he gets a few more games under his belt and goes from strength to strength.
What motivated me to return from injury was the feeling you experience with
your teammates in the change room after a good win. You can’t buy that feeling
anywhere in the world and that was what drove me on during dark patches.
asked: Jean de Villiers described you as, “One of the most underrated flyhalves
we have ever had in this country.” As a player, were you pigeon-holed for your
no-arms tackle technique?
James: There were effectively two different eras of
my professional playing career. When I was really young, I didn’t understand my
exact role in the team and, at times, I would run around like a headless
chicken. Looking back, I was a bit reckless and went through a phase of no-arms
tackling, which people still stop me in the street to recount. But as I matured
and started to understand my role, I guided the ship like most flyhalves do
nowadays. That responsibility helped my game and ultimately made me a better
player. The two most important aspects of flyhalf play is understanding space –
when to take the ball flat and when to take it deep – and distribution. A
pivot’s passing has to be pin-point. A flyhalf has to be the second best passer
in the team, behind the scrumhalf, as it depends on the flyhalf’s pass whether
or not a particular move on attack will work.
asked: If you were Springbok coach, who would you select as your first-choice
James: The battle at flyhalf between Handré Pollard
and Pat Lambie is neck-a-neck, but I would start with Pollard at ten and shift
Lambie to fullback. While Willie le Roux had a brilliant game against the World
XV, I would feel much safer with Lambie at fullback in a World Cup semi-final
or final. He is more solid and won’t make too many mistakes. Although Pollard
didn’t kick well for poles last Saturday at Newlands, he boasts an 80 percent
goal-kicking success rate. He is also more physical than Lambie, and with
players bigger, faster and stronger in the game today, he fits the bill.
asked: You spent five seasons with Bath. How did your all-round game develop?
James: When I moved to Bath in 2007, we actually
had quite an attack-minded team, so it was enjoyable from a playing
perspective. There was a bit of rain and mud, but at that level the players are
good enough to run the ball. My attacking game improved and we played a great
brand of rugby. We really gave it a good crack and scored some excellent tries.
My rugby developed when I was in England because I enjoyed it so much. It’s a
misnomer to suggest English teams kick and don’t run. At times, the game up
north is a bit slower owing to the conditions, but the modern pitches drain
really well, which allows teams to express themselves and not only play amongst
asked: Do you agree with the notion that
New Zealand rugby players run into space, whereas their South Africans
counterparts attempt to run at or over their opponents?
James: Yes, and in order to combat this problem, I
believe we need to follow New Zealand’s lead in playing according to weight
categories instead of age groups. In South Africa, we get one or two big kids
from under-10 level right through to high school, who are literally head and
shoulders above their opponents. It’s pretty easy for them to run at and over
their opposition, but when their opponents catch up to them in terms of height
and weight, they have nothing else to fall back on. In New Zealand, the value
of playing against opponents from a young age, who are the same size, is in
developing skills to beat them by side-stepping and running at space. It’s a
model we must adopt.
asked: You played against Australia 12 times over your career and only won on
five occasions. What makes them such a tricky team to beat, and your prediction
James: The thing about the Australians is that they
are really clever rugby players. The Wallabies devise good plans when they come
up against the Springboks, and their attack is always well-thought-out.
Australia will definitely test South Africa’s defence a lot more than the World
XV did. Even if Australia endures a weak scrum performance, they will make a
plan to get the ball out quickly to channel one, for example. Their lineouts
are always effective and their defence is well-organised. However, if the Boks
enjoy dominance upfront, the Wallabies will be in for a long day. I believe our
forwards will gain the upper-hand by bashing them a bit upfront, and once we’ve
sucked in a few defenders, our backs will be presented with the opportunity to
prosper. Pollard will be calling for the ball to release his outside backs who
can do damage. The Springboks will win 28-22.
Roger De Sa
Hennie le Roux
Peter de Villiers
Braam van Straaten
Carel du Plessis
Joe van Niekerk