The series against the British and Irish Lions is there for the taking, but if the Springboks want to be sure of winning the second Test and then have sustained success through the rest of the season, the time has come for the coach to make a difficult decision.
Gavin Rich writes for sport24.co.za:
It has never been a secret that Adrian Jacobs has been one of Peter de Villiers’s favourite players. Jacobs played for De Villiers at the Falcons when he coached there near the start of this decade, and it was De Villiers who brought Jacobs back from obscurity last season to play Test match rugby after a gap of five years.
Jacobs delivered more for the Boks and his coach than many people anticipated last year, and when the matches did open up, he showed great line-breaking ability and was an excellent finisher. While he showed bravery on defence, however, and put in a lot of effort there, the perception that he has a weakness on defence , and is a potential weak link at the back for the Boks, has never really gone away.
Lions assistant coach Warren Gatland, when looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the Boks on the eve of the Durban Test, listed Jacobs’s defence as a potential weakness in his armoury. And this was proved to be the case at Absa Stadium, where the Lions midfield of Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll did what many suspected would happen last year but didn’t – they exposed Jacobs.
It was almost like someone was calling open gates every time the Lions ran at the Bok midfield. De Villiers has said that he looks forward to working this week on the Bok cohesion on defence, but it would be naive of him to neglect the root cause of the Bok defensive problems – which is that there are now too many players in the backline configuration who do not boast tackling as their strong suit.
It might sound like an odd thing to say on a day when Ruan Pienaar was so outstanding at flyhalf, but the first Test was a game which showed how much the Boks miss Butch James when he is not around. And while Heinrich Brussow was excellent at the breakdown, and should never have been replaced, Schalk Burger’s physical presence on cover defence was also missed.
For all his strengths, Pienaar does not like tackling. He is not like James, who used to relish the physical challenge, and who used to shy the opposition teams away from running at his channel. The Lions are able to run at Pienaar without fear, and they know they can do the same to Jacobs, as they proved when they exploited that channel for their first try in the Durban game.
Jean de Villiers is the best defender of the three, and historically he has been a good defence organiser. You got the impression in 2008 that he did a lot of defending for Jacobs. But De Villiers, who played for so long with two tremendous tacklers on either side of him in James and Jaque Fourie, is not on his own a sufficient physical threat to the opposition on defence.
To compound matters, everyone knows that Jacobs is carrying a shoulder injury at the moment that a few months ago had some medical people recommending an operation. Sooner or later Jacobs is going to have to undergo that operation, and it may not be a coincidence that it is now at least three months, the same amount of time that he has been operating under the injury cloud, since Jacobs really excelled on the field.
It would be okay to continue carrying Jacobs if there were no other centres, but Fourie can deliver the physical threat that Jacobs is incapable of bringing, and a midfield combination of Fourie and De Villiers makes more sense for the Boks moving forward.
It is going to be interesting to see how the Bok coach sees it this week when the team is selected, for if he ignores what was obvious for everyone but himself in Durban (there was widespread shock when he pulled De Villiers, and not Jacobs, from the field) it could risk the Boks losing a Test match.
And against a Lions team that was disappointingly poor in the first game that is just not a result the Boks ought to be contemplating. They are streets ahead of the Lions in just about every area – with the one notable exception of the midfield.Tweet