Jake White’s senior Springboks are running into form at the right time. However, there’s not much secondary ammunition firing in the Vodacom Super 14.
In a weekend when the bones finally hit the jackpot in calling six from six (yup we knew the Bulls in New Zealand are more putty than concrete), several of the seasoned Boks of the last two years showed themselves to be the leaders in their positions.
One or two are still battling for form, among them Sharks fullback Percy Montgomery. However, Montgomery started the season brilliantly and tailored off in his last game before returning home. He was ordinary against the Reds, but he is a big game player and he remains the best option for the international season.
In the midfield Jean de Villiers showed the touches that make him the best No 12 in the country, while the biggest positives continue to emerge in the Sharks pack where AJ Venter and John Smit showed their value to the region and to the national equation.
Venter, in tandem with Schalk Burger and Joe van Niekerk, helped shape a destructive loose-trio in 2004. Injury robbed White of Venter’s services last year, especially on the end of year tour. But with Venter on fire and Shaun Sowerby to add to the loose-forward depth, White will pick a loose-trio that won’t have to stand back to the All Blacks. Physically, it will be as effective and imposing.
The key, obviously, is the back-up depth and none has been consistently good. Luke Watson enjoyed his best game for two seasons agains the Force, Wikus van Heerden has dabbled with the very good and the ordinary and Pedrie Wannenburg has also been a mixture. Jacques Cronje also seems to deliver too infrequently on his talent. Warren Britz is another who blossomed against the Reds, but has not done it with enough regularity, while Juan Smith is injured. Hopefully he will be back by June because he certainly has a role to play with the Boks and a fit Smith currently would be picked ahead of a fit Joe van Niekerk.
Flyhalf has given White few answers. Meyer Bosman has been the best of an average South African lot, with Derick Hougaard again letting himself down in the match that was always going to be crucial to him. Hougaard has kicked brilliantly at home and against an average Force side was also very good. The moment he played in New Zealand he looked half the player and some of his misses were simply unbelievable.
Jaco van der Westhuyzen and Andre Pretorius have enhanced their reputations, purely by not playing.
Scrumhalf is an area where Ruan Pienaar has added to his growing support base and Bolla Conradie has shown signs of better form, while Ross Skeate, BJ Botha and Wynand Olivier have been the most prominent of the emerging players.
The Ndungane twins have also had their moments on the wing, but I’d still pick Breyton Paulse to partner Bryan Habana on his return from France in June.
Fitness permitting, this is the the team I’d like to see start the international season against Scotland.
12. De Villiers
10. Van der Westhuyzen
3. Van der Linde
1. Du Randt
Incumbent national squad players who have not done their international status justice so far in the competition include Eddie Andrews, Hanyani Shimange, De Wet Barry, Marius Joubert, Solly Tyibilika and Jacques Cronje. They have five weeks to get it right.
White currently has 22 test players who can go toe to toe with the All Blacks. They, in turn have 44, who can battle South Africa. And over a period of two months, that will be the difference in winning the Vodacom Tri Nations.
It is this depth that White has to develop this year once the first team has given the international season momentum with a two-nil series win against Scotland.
PS: The Bones … climbing, climbing and soaring!
Week one: 4/7
Week two: 4/7
Week three: 4/7
Week four: 5/6
Week five: 5/6
Week six: 5/6
Week seven: 5/6
Week eight: 6/6
38/51 = 74.5 percent