Some time ago there was much uncertainty as to who should be playing 8th man for the Springboks. Pierre Spies and Ryan Kankowski were the men who were competing for the position. Kanko was is superb form and pushing underperforming Spies for the spot. Pierre Spies then took the position and made it his own beyond all doubt. The big bull had an outstanding super 14 but has since been horribly poor. His tri nations was typical of what we saw from most of the team throughout the tournament and his performance in the Currie Cup semi-final reminded me somewhat of a dear in the headlights.
It is obvious that there is a lack of coaching at national level but how does one go from one the form loose forwards in the most dominant team in super 14 to the unconfident hulk we saw in Durban in just a few months? Was it the brilliance of du Preez just making him look good? Whatever the problem I’m sure he will regain his status as the counties leading 8 at some point.
South African coaches have always allowed players to muck about in the Springbok team while obviously out of form with the knowledge that the slump will end. Graham Henry on the other hand drops players at will; perhaps we could learn a few things from him? While Spies was pretty poor he did not make any glaring errors or look out of his depth like Bryan Habana, who was nothing short of disgraceful throughout the entire Tri Nations. But typically the Springbok selectors allow out of form players to continue instead of bringing in form youngsters.
Pierre Spies sets himself pretty high standards; he knows he has not lived up to them. He thinks he is the worlds best 8 in training but he was well schooled by opposition loosies throughout the Tri Nations.
The lovely thing about South African rugby is that there is always someone else. Willem Alberts, Duane Vermuelen, Ashley Johnson and Ryan Kankowski are pushing hard for the 8th man position. There is not much doubt that Spies will start the first test on the European tour but should his performance warrant his demotion from a starting birth who should replace him?
Ryan Kankowski is the obvious first choice as he has been second in line for the position for some time now. I disagree with the fact that he will underperform in the Northern Hemispheres conditions; in 2007 on his test against whales he played a brilliant game and scored a try. However he is less abrasive then some of his competitors, which may swing things in favour of someone with a harder edge. He is pure class and it would be unfair to put a newly capped player in front of him straight away.
Willem Alberts is a machine. I’m rather upset about the fact that he plays for the sharks (stolen) but that’s that. His ball carrying and tackles are ridiculous. His game against the Bulls was brilliant, crossing the game line at will and always keeping the ball in contact. Willem weighs120 kg’s, which makes him slightly less mobile so perhaps he is best suited at 7 but some would argue that he played 8 successfully in the past. Wherever he plays he must be in the Bok plans for the tour. Opposition do not like tackling this guy and it would be lovely to see some of those gutless English trying to stand up after being steamrolled by this hard as nails young talent.
Duane Vermeulen has been unlucky not to already have a few tests to his name. He has a hard edge and fiery attitude that is somewhat similar to the great Bakkies Botha. He brings the grit that was missing in the Bok team when Juan Smith was absent. Vermeulen was poached from the Bloem not to long ago but his play was highly regarded long before his move to the Cape.
Ashley Johnson is the most underrated player in the country. Utter his name as someone who you rate highly and you will receive mostly negative feedback. I’m not really sure why this is because this guy is pure class. He has some serous pace and silky smooth hands to link the backline in the traditional 8th man roll. He may not look it but he is supremely fit and very difficult to bring down. In the dying minutes of the Cape semi-final he was toiling manfully for an obviously beaten team. He fully deserves his selection unlike some other guys in the preliminary training squad. He is my choice should Spies be replaced by a new face.
Schalk Burger is back to fine form and could be chosen at 8 with a better fetcher deployed at 6. The inclusion of Deon Stegmann and the imminent return of Heinrich Brussow could see this happen. Schalk plays more of an 8th man roll these days in any case.
Brigidier, Over and Out!