Defeat will expedite change

Keo, in his Business Day column, writes that team selections against France cursed the Boks and not missed kicks.

Jake White has done so much good for Springbok rugby in the past two years that it would be unfair to ridicule his assessment that a failed Percy Montgomery conversion cost his team victory against France.

When he spoke these words, just 30 minutes after being romanced by the French generosity and then mugged by their ruthlessness, he was a man backed into a corner and understandably embarrassed by the four try to one result.

White is technically very astute and in the quiet of Saturday night, far away from a baying media pack, the Bok coach would have acknowledged to himself that team selections cost him a hell of a lot more than one Montgomery conversion miss. He would also have conceded that where his Boks flourished two years ago because of their adventurous spirit, this 2006 model has been strangled by conservatism in team selections and game plan strategy.

If White has not made this concession, then the Boks have no price in next month’s expanded Tri Nations.

It would be fair to give White the benefit of the doubt and to excuse the immediate post-match emotional diatribe that inexperience also cost the team a victory.

What inexperience?

All week we heard that the reason De Wet Barry was recalled to the Bok midfield was because he had played nearly 40 tests. We were told that Brent Russell had been in the system for two years under White. We were reminded that Gaffie du Toit’s boot, alleged pace and experience were reasons he got selected ahead of the likes of the Ndungane twins. And all week we were encouraged to believe the potency of this Bok pack, while White mocked those media who dared to suggest his failure to pick a specialist openside flanker could prove a blunder.

There was nothing inexperienced about the Bok tight five. There was nothing inexperienced about the loose-forwards, the halfbacks or the back three. If there is a consolation, it came in the form of the most inexperienced player Wynand Olivier. Outside of Montgomery, he was the best Bok back.

Inexperience was not a factor at Newlands; mediocrity among the substitute’s bench was far more damning and damaging to the continuation of a home record that should have been a motivating factor, but in recent weeks had become an obsession.

The home record is gone (thank goodness) and perhaps now a squad can be picked to potentially win a World Cup in France and not protect an unbeaten winning sequence and a coaching record that, in the spirit of the obsession with the coach’s winning percentage, must be recorded as having dropped to 68 percent.

When White needed to inject creativity in the second half none of Jacques Cronje, Wayne Julies or Du Toit was qualified to attack the space that comes with a game into its third and fourth quarters. There were no impact specialists on the bench and White, forced through injury, introduced plodders and not qualified play makers.

For two years White has escaped this scrutiny of his bench because the injury gods have smiled on the Boks. This season they’ve hissed at the Boks and struck at match winners Bryan Habana, Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers and Schalk Burger.

Injury, however, has had little to do with the selection of Eddie Andrews as a tighthead. A year ago Andrews copped a beating against the French. At Newlands it was de ja vu for the brave but limited international tighthead.

When France pushed the Boks off their own ball in the closing stages the humiliation was complete. Paris, in November of 2005, had not been an aberration but a reminder that South Africa needed to find a new strategy and introduce innovation through selections.

Six months later the Bok selectors refused to concede Paris was nothing more than an off day. Against a French team, showing seven changes to the one that beat the Boks in Paris, they tried the same approach and they came up with the same result.

Now the acknowledgement will come when the Tri Nations squad is confirmed in the course of Monday. There will be no faces, if after the fact.

It could and should have been so different. The new generation of Spies, Barritt, Ralepelle, Pietersen and Pienaar should have taken their first international steps against the Scots in a home environment.

Surely, the selectors did not need hindsight to make these calls, instead of asking these youngsters to now go to Australia and New Zealand and make an impression.

The selections, should they happen, are bold and necessary. What has transpired in the last month was not as necessary. Injuries tripped up the Bok selectors, but their own conservatism and limitation in player identification caused the fall we saw against France at Newlands.

And to reinforce the folly of Jake’s post match banter … not a missed Monty conversion.