While Springbok coach Peter de Villiers was rightly accepting acclaim for the Springboks’ convincing 21-11 win over England at Twickenham on Saturday, at least one issue must be nagging at the back of his mind.
What to do with hooker Bismarck du Plessis when skipper John Smit returns from injury?
It’s clear that Du Plessis is not only the best hooker in South Africa, but he’s also the best hooker in the world, with New Zealand’s Keven Mealamu a close second.
De Villiers is in a bind because he can’t possibly make a compelling argument that Smit is a better player than Du Plessis.
Nor can he say that Smit’s influence on the team is greater than that of Bismarck.
The latter, by his sheer physical presence, superb basic skills and manically competitive nature, has a massive positive impact on the team.
The coach and the injured skipper have a strong relationship and healthy mutual respect, which shouldn’t override the obvious facts.
Smit has served with distinction. He’s won everything there is, but like a prizefighter he’s overstayed his welcome.
It’s up to his corner to call time.
Smit should have bowed out after captaining the Boks to victory over the British & Irish Lions in 2009, and left on his own terms.
But his personal desire to earn 100 Test caps, aided by De Villiers’s loyalty, overrode the best interests of the team.
It’s been obvious that Du Plessis has been the better player for at least two years now, which the Bok management tacitly admitted when they tried to recast Smit as a tighthead prop to accommodate Du Plessis in late 2008.
That worked in terms of results, but Smit was never comfortable at No3 despite some good days, such as the first Test against the Lions in Durban.
Du Plessis’s long-term neck injury suffered earlier in the year made it easy to revert to Smit as a hooker.
Smit’s apparent success at tighthead was glossed over.
“Tighthead prop” was never mentioned again in relation to Smit.
But now Du Plessis is back and better than ever.
Only the most decorated South African captain of all time stands in the younger man’s way of cementing his rightful place in the heart of the scrum.
It’s unthinkable that the Bok management will try to convert Smit into a prop again. And therefore it’s a straight shootout for No2 between Smit, the man with history on his side, and Du Plessis, the man of the present and of the future.
In pure rugby terms it shouldn’t be a tough decision.
This article is courtesy of www.thetimes.co.za and was written by Craig RayTweet