Adrian Jacobs looks set to be the rabbit that new Springbok coach Peter de Villiers pulls out of the hat when he names his starting team for next Saturday’s opening Test against Wales in Bloemfontein.
It is understood that the Sharks centre is poised to make his return to Test rugby after an absence of several years as part of De Villiers’ starting team, according to Gavin Rich writing for the Sunday Argus.
The side is to be announced at a press conference in Bloemfontein on Wednesday.
The Sharks centre did not take up position in the shadow team that ran a structure session in Stellenbosch last Thursday, but he was on the sidelines nursing a minor injury. De Villiers has told reporters that he is not yet sure whether he considers Frans Steyn an inside centre or an outside centre, and a Jacobs selection might explain this apparent lack of urgency.
When Waylon Murray was omitted from the squad, the group building up to the new season in Somerset West/Stellenbosch was left with just one specialist outside centre in Jacobs, who last played for the Boks during the Harry Viljoen era.
The whispers from within the Bok squad are that De Villiers, who has never made a secret of his admiration for Jacobs’ ability, is going to give Jacobs the No13 jersey, where he will play outside Stormers captain and regular Bok inside centre, Jean de Villiers.
If this happens, the prodigiously talented Steyn, who may occasionally make mistakes but is a proven match winner and a player with the indefinable X- factor that separates great players from the ordinary, could find himself outside of the match 22 altogether.
And Steyn won’t be the only World Cup winner on the sidelines if De Villiers sticks to his plan (he has been known to change his plans quite quickly during the training camp in Stellenbosch), for it now seems almost certain that fullback Percy Montgomery and lock Victor Matfield will not be part of the starting team in Bloemfontein.
Conrad Jantjes and Andries Bekker were both form players in the Super 14, and Montgomery and Matfield have been away from South Africa for several months, so this selection should not raise as many eyebrows as that of Jacobs, who was one of the Sharks players sorely exposed by the Waratahs in Sydney last weekend.
Jacobs brings nice touches on attack, but he is known to be weak on defence, which is one of the reasons why for so long he was used only as an impact player by the Sharks until this season he forced his way into the starting line-up. When the Waratahs played on him last week, however, he crumbled under the pressure, with all the old question marks resurfacing.
The problem for the Boks is that a player like Jacobs might be able to perform against the weakened Welsh, which could leave the new coach going into the much tougher Tri-Nations fixtures with a false impression of what the player can do.
It is interesting to note that all four sessions prior to the team announcement in Bloemfontein will be closed to the media. This may or may not be because De Villiers is still deliberating over his combinations.
De Villiers did say at the outset that he would like all sessions, where possible, to be open to both media and public, so this does seem quite a quick departure from what was intended. But it was also obvious from Thursday’s session that the Boks under De Villiers will be employing a much more structured approach than initially anticipated.
This being so, it would not make rugby sense for De Villiers to permit a large crowd to attend the crucial sessions in the build-up week as it would be easy then for the Welsh to get observers in to note the Bok moves. If this happened, it could provide the opposition with a massive leg-up in Bloemfontein.
If De Villiers sticks to his plan to play Jacobs and he omits Montgomery and Matfield they would be massive calls, but they should not be regarded as a gamble against the Welsh.
While next week will give us a preview of what we can expect under De Villiers, the real moment of truth will come a month later, when the Tri-Nations season starts.
At this early stage of the season it is reasonable to assume that the players are having a marked influence on the planning and structure, and De Villiers, without quite mentioning the words, has spoken a lot about player empowerment.
This should be enough to carry the Boks through against Wales but, from the experience of studying previous Bok coaching regimes, the real litmus test will arrive once the pressure is on and the All Blacks and Australia come into view.
If Montgomery does not start in Bloemfontein, Butch James will assume the place-kicking responsibilities.Tweet