The selection reeks of short sightedness
The selection of Saracens hooker Schalk Brits ahead of Western Province captain Deon Fourie for the Springboks’ end-of-year tour is as baffling as it is surprising.
Brits was the major Bok bolter in the 31-man squad announced on Sunday for the imminent three-Test tour of Europe, Heyneke Meyer citing Brits’ familiarity with the European conditions as the determining factor behind his shock selection.
It’s not that Brits, who won the last of his three Springbok caps in 2008, isn’t deserving of a Bok recall. He’s been a consistent performer ever since he swapped Western Province for Saracens in 2009, carving out a reputation as one of the most exciting talents in the Premiership and clinching the coveted Players’ Player of the Year award for the 2009/10 season in the process.
He possesses the mobility, pace and footwork of an outside back and an uncanny ability to win turnovers at the breakdown that sets him apart from vice-captain Adriaan Strauss and fit-again Chiliboy Ralepelle, the other hookers selected for the Euro trip.
The issue is that in Fourie, Meyer has a player in the same mould that is plying his trade in South Africa and who turned in a man of the match performance in Saturday’s Currie Cup Final against the Sharks.
Although he played most of Western Province’s triumphant Currie Cup campaign as a retread openside flank, he remains a hooker and is currently in the form of his life.
Favouring a 31-year-old veteran over a locally-based 26-year-old with proven big match temperament and leadership skills reeks of short sightedness and is the most perplexing selection of Meyer’s debut season at the helm.
In opting for Brits, the Bok mentor contradicted his proclamation earlier this year that he would only select an overseas-based player if he is vastly superior to those slogging it out in South Africa.
It’s the second time in Meyer’s short tenure that he has backtracked on his beliefs after his change of heart of employing a specialist fetcher, which questions his conviction in his ways.
The selection of 2011 SARU Player of the Year Gurthrö Steenkamp, in contrast, is sound and will cover the Boks’ bases in the front row. The Toulouse-based veteran will be an insurance policy on the bench and his presence as a World Cup winner will be particularly beneficial to the growth of Test rookie Pat Cilliers.
The most exciting selection in the backline is that of Cheetahs wing Raymond Rhule, whose meteoric rise this season has seen him win the IRB Junior World Championship with the Baby Boks in Cape Town in June, finish his debut Currie Cup season as the top try-scorer (eight) and earn a place in the senior Bok squad.
The 19-year-old is a real blue-chipper and could be the breakout star of the 2012 year-end tour in the same vein as the man he’s filling in for, the injured Bryan Habana, was in 2004. The then 21-year-old Habana lit up the Twickenham pitch with a try on debut and has gone on to cement himself as one of the all-time greats.
How fitting it would be for Rhule to follow in his footsteps.
By Quintin van Jaarsveld
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