Barry backed, Jean’s not jolted

De Wet Barry will captain the Stormers in 2006, but Jean de Villiers will not be forced into the outside backs.

Keo.co.za has learnt that Barry was appointed captain by head coach Kobus van der Merwe earlier this afternoon, with Schalk Burger named as his deputy.

The call is conservative, and whilst it is sure to be motivated by player support, Barry’s elevation to status as full-time captain is unlikely to be met by anything more than a shrug by knowledgable Stormers support.

Neil de Kock offically captained the side last year, but it was under Barry’s leadership that the side sunk to humiliating consecutive defeats at home to the Crusaders, Blues and Chiefs, the games that gutted an already disappointing competition and set up the ultimate humiliation at Loftus.

With riskier options such as Schalk Brits, Luke Watson or Jean de Villiers available and keen to take the job, Van der Merwe and his coaching staff have backed the banker. Their thinking is clear: Rather not chance the possibility of a masterstroke if it could backfire. The stakes are just too high.

Barry’s credentials as captain lie in his dependability, his aggressive and physical approach and non-controversial life off-the-field. The major hindrance to Barry’s appointment would be the fact that up until now his inclusion in Stormers and Western Province line-ups have meant De Villiers has been forced into playing on the wing or outside Barry at best.

Up until now it has been conventional logic that Barry is an immovable object at 12, both in terms of his defensive ferocity and his inability to play anywhere else. Keo.co.za has learnt, however, that coach Van der Merwe and his team have taken the plunge and will gamble with Barry at 13 from the onset of the competition.

As conservative as their selection of captain may be, Van der Merwe, Gary Gold, Jerome Paarwater and Hawies Fourie need to be applauded for what will be a risky but vital decision. It means De Villiers need not look glumly forward to a season alternating with Marius Joubert at 13, a few games on the wing and perhaps one or two at 10, with Barry’s captaincy making jersey 12 off-limits.

It is twelve months since Gert Smal fielded increasingly urgent media inquiries as to why he steadfastly refused to play De Villiers at 12. The answers were not deemed satisfactory then, and would not be now, and the Stormers are insightful enough to have recognised this

Having Barry play at 13 to accomodate De Villiers in the playmaking channel leads to some obvious questions. Some would suggest that allowing Barry to defend one out from his usual channel opens him up to exploitation by sheer speed, the most basic of attacking weapons. But because of the defensive system employed by the Stormers, this is not an issue. A primary component of the system dictates that defenders hit up-and-in ie from the outside shoulder. This negates a lack of pace, as long as Barry dissists from shooting out of line, a tendancy he has.

The only concern would be that in comparison to the No 12 channel, defending as a No 13 can make an unaccustomed player feel extremely isolated. There is loads of space, and that can be disconcerting for a player more used to the heavier traffic closer to the scrum. Barry, however, has the experience and the ability to familiarise himself quickly.

Concern that this would negate his talents as a fourth loose-forward is countered by the common coaching belief that stealing ball on the ground is a matter of instinct and desire rather than positioning.

Despite the logical reasoning behind the move, it is foolhardy to suggest that Barry at 12 is anything other than a certainty, but Barry at 13 nothing more than a question mark. For now.

De Villiers, a year ago, was drifting. Shifted between wing and outside centre, he did not register a start as inside centre during the Super 12. Barry started every fixture, but after an international season behind him that highlights De Villiers’ value closer to the scrum, not even Barry’s status as captain can shift him now.

It would have been hard for the Stormers to substantiate why black jersey 12 should be far more elusive for the country’s premier playmaker than the Springbok version, but luckily and rarely in Bok rugby, they won’t have to. Common sense has prevailed.