Brits wasted in front row

Keo, in his News 24 column, writes that a change of position will bring Schalk Brits a change of fortunes.

In 1998 Nick Mallett toyed with the idea of playing Bob Skinstad as an inside centre.

He never went through with it and we will never know what Skinstad would have done in the midfield. Now there’s another forward with stunning skills, who should also think about moving into the backs.

Schalk Brits is a phenomenal footballer. He is not as good a hooker as he is a rugby player. His skills are more suited to wearing the No 12 jersey than the number 2 jersey. The criticism of him at hooker would not apply to Brits, the midfielder.

Every time I see Brits play I am more convinced the one fell off his jersey. That’s the one that goes before the two. In a season of woe and wobbles for the Stormers he has been the one player who has provided those magical moments.

Against the Highlanders he embarrassed their defence with a sidestep where his hips took the defender to London and his feet danced towards Singapore. The change in direction was stunning.

In that same game he set up a try-scoring chance by beating the first tackler with pace, sucking in two more defenders and then squeezing his pass out in the double tackle. It was the stuff you associate with the game’s most creative midfielders.

Brits has also shown strength in the tackle to score a try this season and serious gas over 20 metres to outstrip the Cheetahs defence and score. He has been the Stormers most effective runner in broken play or whenever he gets the ball in space.

What the hell is such a talent doing squashed between two fat boys in the front row?

When Skinstad threw the most outrageous of dummies to bamboozle Australian midfield maestro Tim Horan and score at Ellis Park in 1998 he displayed a skill few midfielders in world rugby had when attacking Horan’s defence.

Some of what Brits has done in this year’s Super 14 has been of similar vintage.

Realistically, Brits is going to struggle to make the Springbok World Cup squad as a hooker. John Smit, the Bok captain, is number one.

The Bulls Gary Botha is another who will be picked before Brits and even Brits’s regional teammate Hanyani Shimange is ahead of him in the national pecking order.

The criticism of Brits, the hooker, has been his lineout throwing and concerns about his scrumming. The national selectors, for the past 18 months, have not picked him because they consider him to lack the basic essentials of a test hooker.

But even they have been forced to acknowledge his qualities as a rugby player.

Currently Brits is the most explosive player in South Africa. He is also the most dynamic when he has the ball and a bit of space.

The crowd knows this and there is an expectancy of attacking brilliance every time Brits gets the ball. The guy this season got the Cape Town crowd more excited than any backline player wearing black, including the mercurial Jean de Villiers.

The Stormers coaching staff is too conservative to move Brits into the midfield and to give him a run. The same coaches run Western Province, so they won’t make the move either.

Any change of position will have to be driven by the player.

Brits needs to know that his international options as a hooker are limited, but as a footballer they know no limits.

South Africa missed a chance with Skinstad. It would be a shame if five years from now the talk is of another missed chance with Brits.

The opportunity is there to reward the qualities of this player and not knock the perceived deficiencies. As a Test hooker Brits is viewed as being vulnerable. As a Test midfielder he would be invaluable.

*Check out what Brits has to say about his Bok prospects in the latest issue of SA Rugby Magazine.