Cape Town – They have taken their time about creating a homeward passage for their former skipper John Smit, but it is unlikely that the Sharks will be as slow in coming forward to stake a claim for Butch James writes Gavin Rich on news24.co.za
It is understood that the Sharks and the Lions are in the running to grab James’ signature should he be released from his two year contract with English club, Bath.
SA Rugby have made it known that they would prefer James to join Smit and star lock Victor Matfield in returning to South Africa rather than continuing his career overseas.
SA Rugby’s manager of national teams, Andy Marinos, who is in New Zealand performing the duties of team manager with the Springboks, has pointed out that it is becoming increasingly more difficult for overseas based players to dovetail their overseas commitments with their commitment to the Springboks.
Although he is going to lead the Boks against the All Blacks in Wellington on Saturday, Smit had to undertake a 30-hour journey from France on Sunday and Monday after completing his commitments with his French club, who played in the French final.
It is hardly ideal to have your skipper link up with the team so late in the preparation week before such an important match.
The Boks could find the same thing happening with James in the future. So while SA Rugby have agreed that the Bok coach can pick overseas based players, it may, as Marinos says, become logistically less and less possible to do so.
This is why Bok coach Peter de Villiers, who is now sold on James after initially being poised to exclude him from the squad, is eager to facilitate a return to the country for James, as was done for Smit.
The Sharks, if they could, would probably snap up James to play for them right now, for the pivot position has been their one big problem in a messy start to the ABSA Currie Cup season.
Frenchman Frederic Michalak is set to become available again once his injury problems are over, but the Sharks management have struggled to communicate their ideas to him because of the language barrier.
And with Michalak not due to return anytime soon, with every passing week so it becomes more and more apparent that the Sharks have a massive problem when it comes to home-grown flyhalves.
Brad Barritt has been used there in the matches against Western Province and the Boland Cavaliers, but he has struggled to impose himself and really doesn’t have the kicking game for the position.
Apart from that, he might well be the best inside centre in the country, or at least was before his non-selection for the Bok training squad in 2007 destroyed his confidence, and it is a crying shame that he is not being used in his preferred position.
Some of Barritt’s teammates rate him as the best distributing No 12 in the business, something that became more apparent when he returned to the Sharks team for the final Super 14 league game against the Chiefs in May.
Unfortunately, the then coach Dick Muir opted to return Fransie Steyn to No12 once the Springbok utility back had proved his fitness for the semi-final against the Waratahs.
Barritt again showed his value when he was introduced late in the Sydney game, with the Sharks backs looking a lot more fluid once he was on the field.
Ruan Pienaar was used at No10 towards the end of the Super 14 season, and until the semi-final, he was successful in the position.
Former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones, when he acted as Jake White’s adviser with the Boks at last year’s World Cup, said that Pienaar was the future of Bok flyhalf play, and he may still be, but the player still prefers scrumhalf, and it is clear he will require time to develop as a pivot.
If he is going to do that, then he will benefit from having James around to mentor him. The Maritzburg College old boy has matured a lot in the last year, with the impact of Jones’ coaching and his stint with Bath having a positive effect.
Down in Sharks country they don’t share De Villiers’ view that Steyn is a flyhalf, and at the very least, it will take a couple of years, rather than months, for Steyn to become a top quality No 10 – if indeed he ever does.
No-one is able to say whether Bath would be prepared to release James, and you would imagine that his great form for them this season would make them reluctant to do so, but there is no denying that the Sharks would benefit from having his services.Tweet