Several weeks ago, Butch James was not even in the thoughts of new Springbok coach Peter de Villiers. Well, he is now. And he should be.
Peter Bills writes in The Star that the first training squad announced by De Villiers for the build-up to the Test series against Wales contains many new names. It’s a thoroughly sensible combination of old and new.
For me, there is no greater moment to blood some of these newcomers or previous reserves than in the Tests against a weakened Wales. For example, I’d start with the Stormers halfbacks Peter Grant and Rickie Januarie against Wales. Fourie du Preez has not been at his best in this Super 14 but even if he had, I’d try out the Stormers duo.
Similarly, there is no better time to give Luke Watson a meaningful run-out in Test rugby. Schalk Burger isn’t fit so it’s time to look at Watson.
But in my view, if De Villiers spends every match looking at players solely with the 2011 Rugby World Cup in mind, I think he’ll be making a big mistake. Looking too far ahead is dangerous.
Two major fixtures loom up, iceberg-like, ahead of the Springboks this year. They are both against New Zealand; in Wellington on July 5 and in Dunedin, seven days later. If anything is going to define De Villiers’ tenure as Springbok coach, winning in New Zealand wouldn’t be a bad start. Jake White never managed it.
Those two games are the key matches of the year. And who is the man to control the Springboks’ game in Wellington and Dunedin, from the crucial flyhalf slot? Peter Grant? No. Injuries permitting, I would pick Butch James for both.
Even though he had an ordinary game for Bath in the end-of-season playoff semifinal in London on Sunday, James is a transformed player and was instrumental in the Boks’ World Cup win.
He’s got world class stamped all over him and he’s nowhere near finished. What is more, he’s had a long layoff this year because of a dislocated shoulder so he’s mentally fresh and now physically fit.
If the Springboks want to draw a new line in the sand of southern hemisphere rugby by winning in New Zealand, I suggest they must choose James to mastermind the job. Grant may well be one for the future, time will tell. And he will have myriad further opportunities this year to make his case, not least on the end of year tour.
But winning major matches defines a team and an era.
South Africa have a World Cup winning No 10 available for this year’s Tri-Nations. He’d love to play and the Boks should pick him, certainly in New Zealand.Tweet