Springbok coach Peter de Villiers was probably engaging in a spot of double-bluffing when he claimed to have a secret flyhalf – who wasn’t Ruan Pienaar – up his sleeve as backup to Morne Steyn early in the Super 14.
So if his fulsome praise of the man this week was anything to go by, Peter Grant was the player he had in mind.
But there are two reasons Grant probably wasn’t the man: he wasn’t in the same form in the initial rounds of the Super 14 as he is now, and De Villiers’s treatment of him when he was a Springbok in 2008 suggested he didn’t rate him.
Simnikiwe Xabanisa writes for the Sunday Times that the one Test that went some way towards bearing out the latter theory was against Italy in Cape Town. Frans Steyn had started at flyhalf and, after scoring a typically wonderful solo try early in the game, he made a bit of a dog’s breakfast of the opportunity to play in his favourite position.
Grant came in and marshalled a disjointed backline as well as anyone could in the treacherous conditions, but he still didn’t force his way into the inner circle when it came to selection.
The reason for that was simple. Grant – playing at the height of De Villiers’s obsession with fantasy league rugby players – performed with none of the mercury that got Earl Rose selected and Pienaar anointed the Tiger Woods of rugby.
But the turn-around was complete this week, with De Villiers not only praising Grant’s distribution, off-loading in the tackle, defence and goal-kicking, but also defending his notoriously iffy kicking out of hand.
The thing is, while Grant may pass the ball with none of the je ne sais quoi with which Rose and Pienaar do, his passes tend to almost always find their intended recipients.
This leads to the kind of successful running rugby De Villiers has been yearning for since he was appointed Springbok coach.
Other qualities that make the diffident Grant an unlikely disciple for pretty rugby are that he plays at the business end of the advantage line; brings his wrecking ball loose-forwards into play; and has strength in the tackle that sucks in more defenders than the opposition would like.
Ever the shrewd operator – he won the British & Irish Lions series and the Tri-Nations by swallowing his pride and allowing the Boks to pare their game down to basically the pick and drive and the Garryowen last year – De Villiers has spotted a gap in Grant’s scintillating performances this season.
The obvious aspect of that is he now has backup for Steyn that is acceptable to everyone.
Less plain is that in Grant he may have ironically found the flyhalf who will see the Springboks win and play the kind of rugby that will make his post-match beer taste a little better as well, thanks to the style of the victory.
To paraphrase John Lennon, Grant is what happened while De Villiers was busy making other plans.
Ironically, Grant is exactly where Steyn, the man many are clamouring for him to replace in the Bok starting line-up, was this time last year.
Sheer weight of performance in the Super 14 has led the public to almost demand that a player De Villiers essentially didn’t rate be selected.
It also helps Grant’s cause that the normally unflappable Steyn has looked a little ragged under pressure in recent games, with his famed kicking game taking it’s cue from his general play.
Given the similarities between the two (they’re both 25 and have served lengthy apprenticeships at flyhalf), who’s to say Grant won’t be a regular in De Villiers’s starting XV by the end of the year?Tweet