While I find the Bok team named to play the Scots on Saturday mostly encouraging, it’s the omission of Keegan Daniel that I simply cannot fathom.
Deon Stegmann has now been named to start his third successive test at open-side flank – this after initially being left out of the tour squad entirely. He was called in as a late replacement for Schalk Burger, while there were many (myself included) who questioned how his call-up could possibly justified, based on the fact that he had played hardly any Currie Cup rugby. Daniel, on the other hand, was a virtually universally popular pick, given that he had excelled for the Sharks at both open side flank and eighthman throughout the competition. Daniel was duly named as the best open side flanker in numerous teams of the tournament, including our own here on Sharksworld.
Now it was somewhat of a slap in the face for Daniel when Stegmann suddenly leap-frogged him into the Bok starting lineup to face Ireland, which was mitigated to an extent by the Sharks man’s inclusion on the bench. Stegmann was passably good in his first test, but certainly didn’t set the world alight. More concerning was his showing against Wales the following week, where he, quite simply, disappeared. In fact, the Boks stood no chance whatsoever of winning the test match before Willem Alberts came on the replace Stegmann in the 48th minute. At that point, the momentum turned and what looked like an embarrassing defeat was turned into a victory.
Two things stand out here. Firstly is the question about whether players like Stegmann – and the role they play, that of the specialist “fetcher” – are actually necessary in the game right now. The jury would probably still be out on that one, but certainly things now seem a far cry from the 2009 season, when a ball-poacher like Hein Brussow ruled supreme at every breakdown. Some of the most ardent exponents of the “Boks must play a specialist fetcher” theory, including our friend Tank Lanning, only needed to watch the last half-hour of the Wales match to start noisily climbing down from that position and claiming that a man like Alberts might just add far more to the starting loose trio than Stegmann does. So why, then, are we continuing with Stegmann?
The second question is, why exactly was Daniel picked for the tour if he’s not going to be used? Now his critics will argue that he isn’t – and has never been – a specialist fetcher. In fact, his best performances in the Currie Cup usually came when he was wearing the number 8 jersey. What he does bring, though, is the sort of linking game that Boks simply won’t get from any other loose forward in the squad. Daniel is the best ball-player the Boks have amongst the forwards – bar none – and his superb anticipation and reading of the game emerged as one of the key factors that enabled the Sharks were able to play the high-tempo ball-in-hand gamer that won the Currie Cup. He’s a special player, all right, but he’s also a different player – one who doesn’t fit into any of the neatly-labelled loose forward boxes that we currently seem to be obsessed with. What disappoints me most here is that, if anyone SHOULD be able to find a way to use Daniel to his best abilities, it should be the supposedly maverick duo of Peter de Villiers and Dick Muir.
Now while the decision to start Ryan Kankowski at number 8 against Scotland is the right one – as well as one that was seemingly decided a few days before the Ireland test (and any doping scandals broke) – I am convinced that the Boks have got the open-side position 100% wrong. The Scotland test is the ideal opportunity to asses how well Daniel can fit into the Bok playing pattern and while it would be tempting to start with Alberts at 6 and put Daniel on the bench, I don’t feel that would really work. Big Vic is a blindside flank and as good as he is, he needs to prove that he is better than Juan Smith before he can lay a claim to that starting spot. The number 6 jersey, however, is wide open and if the Springbok coaching team were at all serious about Daniel being a part of their plans, they needed to give him an opportunity to claim that jersey.
They haven’t, though and that can only lead me to one conclusion; Daniel was brought along to appease us, but they never intended to play him.Tweet