Jaco van der Westhuyzen remains the best option at flyhalf for the Springboks. Deal with it and move on.
Springbok coach Jake White, feeling the pinch for the first time since an adoring media gave him the red carpet treatment two years ago, went on the defensive in Durban this week post the 30-27 win against the World XV.
White described it as a bad day at the office, but then asked for the public to back Van der Westhuyzen as the test flyhalf. Really, it shouldn’t have needed the national coach to go cap in hand to ask for this support.
Van der Westhuyzen is the best option at flyhalf … not just because White has asked us to believe him but because the Boks looked at their most dangerous and lethal among the backs when he played flyhalf for 17 successive tests. In that time there were two indifferent performances, one against England at Twickenham and one in Sydney against the Wallabies.
But the good times outweighed the bad ones and Van der Westhuyzen’s talents outweigh any negatives.
He is the most skilled No 10 in the country and the most balanced of all test flyhalf contenders when it comes to assessing the package deal. Hell, he’s even managed to grow some bloody hair since excelling as the balding flyer at the 2003 World Cup.
It is a question Superrugby’s Gavin Rich has for a year wanted to put to Van der Westhuyzen: ‘What’s the secret to the hair growth, implants or lazer?’
The remarkable hair growth aside, Van der Westhuyzen has too many good qualities to ignore in a test flyhalf. He just needs to be playing there regularly.
Where Van der Westhuyzen is vulnerable at times is when he is asked to play conservatively and to a game plan that relies solely on structure. This was the case against the World XV.
If White asked the public for patience then he needs to be asking the player for forgiveness in expecting him to play to such a premediated style.
Van der Westhuyzen’s strength is in his ability to read the game and to attack the blind side. He is one of the quickest flyhalves over the first 15 metres and the Boks were awesome on attack in 2004 and the early part of 2005 when he probed this area so effectively.
He has a decent out of hand kicking game, that functions better when he has a kicking option playing inside of him at No 9. He will have this comfort against Scotland on Saturday.
Let’s not forget the last time Van der Westhuyzen played against Scotland he produced his most complete performance for the Boks. And he kicked three drop goals on the day just for good measure.
He is a quality footballer and the Boks struggled more in his absence than they did with him at No 10 when White gave Andre Pretorius an extended run during last year’s Tri Nations.
Van der Westhuyzen had a huge impact on the match against the All Blacks in Dunedin when he replaced Pretorius and he generally has flourished more than he has floundered under White’s tutorship.
The problem against the World XV was not Van der Westhuyzen’s performance at flyhalf. The problem was with the pack, who were disjointed in the primary phases, lacking in creativity with ball in hand and pedestrian to the breakdowns.
White has corrected that by selecting his first choice pack for the Scottish challenge. What he needs to do is give Van der Westhuyzen the necessary comfort in the game plan.
If the coach wants the public to back Van der Westhuyzen, then he too needs to back the talents of his flyhalf and not stifle his natural strength in the way he plays the game.