The best display by a South African flyhalf in the northern hemisphere these past 12 months…
Butch James laid claim to such a title after his superb performance for Bath at Leicester in the English Premiership on Sunday, argues Peter Bills, writing for IOL.
James reminded Springbok coach Peter de Villiers just why he still has so much to offer with a virtuoso display. It wasn’t his fault Bath blew a 22-9 lead with only 16 minutes left, running out of steam to allow one of the great comebacks in Premiership history, as Leicester got home 24-22.
But for an hour, if ever South Africa wanted to find a true international No10 for the series against the British & Irish Lions in June, James showed he is the man. The combination he brought to the game of experience, control, kicking accuracy, attacking invention, defensive commitment and the ability to select the right option at the right time exuded class.
James was overlooked by De Villiers for last year’s end-of-season tour, preferring to look at Ruan Pienaar in the flyhalf role. Pienaar did well, but none of his performances were as consummate as James’s at Leicester last weekend.
James’s ability to read a game, accept propitious attacking chances and select solid safety in moments of adversity gave Bath total control for an hour. He was the perfect director or conductor of the orchestra, ushering colleagues into openings and setting the opposition problems they found hard to solve.
James had a hand in all three Bath tries and only a colleague squandering a clear chance of a fourth (from a beautiful James kick through, into space, beside the Leicester line) denied the South African a fourth successful “assist”.
James was Man of the Match and no South African supporter can have missed the importance of his performance. Pienaar may yet represent the future, certainly for the World Cup in 2011, but if De Villiers wants to be sure of a series success over the Lions, he must have James involved.
His tactical acumen is second to none and the variety he brings to a team’s play is invaluable. His kicks range from bombs to long touch-finders or relieving kicks and clever little grubbers, slid past the on-rushing defence to cause maximum disruption.
James, who last weekend described his former self as “a chicken that had lost its head”, played with cool control and simply oozed international class.
And coach De Villiers will surely take a considerable risk if he ignores such qualities as the Lions prepare for their tour.Tweet