Peter de Villiers could have a rebellion on his hands if he selects Luke Watson for the Springbok squad next weekend.
Clinton Van Der Berg writes that team insiders have told the Sunday Times that some players, among them World Cup-winning Boks, have threatened to withdraw in protest after Watson’s outburst in which he said he wanted to vomit on the Bok jersey and spoke disparagingly of the “Dutchmen” in SA rugby.
Whether Watson deserves selection is a moot point. He may be a De Villiers favourite, but, in strict rugby terms, he’s had a mediocre season, all huff and puff.
His latest hissy fit suggests he’s not cut out for team sport anyway: he lacks the fraternal spirit all teams demand. He’s too unsettling, too much of a destabilising influence, to play in a Test, let alone a three-Test tour. Besides, he might find the Bok change room a lonely place with so many Dutchmen alongside.
There are other issues for the Bok selectors . The flyhalf cupboard is so bare that the Boks could travel to the UK next month with just one specialist No10 in Peter Grant.
Indications are that Butch James, the incumbent, is fatigued. Grant, who isn’t without his flaws, is unquestionably the next best contender, although those next in line fall away alarmingly. Morne Steyn is too predictable, Earl Rose is too flaky and Burton Francis is too raw.
Word is that Peter de Villiers and his co-selectors could opt for Grant, with Francois Steyn and Ruan Pienaar effectively travelling as back- up. This plan, which has merit, isn’t without its problems.
Pienaar wants to settle in at scrumhalf while Steyn has played little first-class rugby in the No10 position. Pienaar is the most important figure in this equation. There are half-a-dozen outstanding players in the queue for the scrumhalf berth and Fourie du Preez and Ricky Januarie aren’t going anywhere.
Pienaar ought to embrace the idea of switching to flyhalf permanently.
The precedent is there with Stephen Larkham, who came off the bench as a scrumhalf to earn his first Test cap. Years later, the Aussie retired as one of the great No10s.
Besides, Pienaar is cut from the same cloth. “His try against the Lions the other night, when he came in flat off the back of a lineout, looked like a video of Larkham,” remarked former Bok coach Jake White.
Thereafter, the selectors have an easy job. The proven players slot in seamlessly and then it’s just a question of adding a few more for a tour that has ambush written all over it. Wales at home will be a formidable, nasty bunch to overcome; and England, under Martin Johnson, will be strong and purposeful. Even Scotland could be a handful .
These five players deserve to be in the mix:
Heinke Van Der Merwe
Van der Merwe, 23, is a bull of a man and arguably the strongest scrummaging loosehead in SA. He’s also a workaholic in the tight-loose and brings serious aggression to the tackle area.
“Baywatch”, 27, has a background in wrestling, which explains his ferocity on the ground. He’s not the biggest around, but his work rate, power and sense of anticipation are rated by the opposition. On form alone, he deserves a look-in.
The new strong man of SA rugby, Deysel, 23, is another quality product off the SA loose forward assembly line. He gives any team a steely edge .
Koster is the bolter in this mix. Just 19, he can play six, seven or eight and was fast enough to play on the wing at under-19 level. Give him a couple of minutes against Scotland and Wales and watch him go.
This one’s a slam-dunk. Injury has kept him away from a De Villiers squad, but now that he’s fit and firing, his selection is as automatic as that of Bakkies Botha or Bryan Habana.