Invest in youth Jake

Keo, in his Business Day column, writes that every day Jake White resists making changes to his squad is lost time.

White, having made his name on the back of youth as an under 21 coach, has to rekindle his love affair with youth if South Africa are to restore credibility to a world ranking that just a month ago was second only to the All Blacks.

The Boks, in a fortnight, could be fifth in the world and on a spiral to be seventh by the end of the year.

To reinforce the problems without providing an alternative would be wasted energy. It is solutions that must occupy ours and – most importantly – the coach’s mind. The players he has on tour are not good enough. Some are out of form, some have never had form and others will never rediscover their best form.

White has relied on 2004’s game plan and motivational speaches, but the eager and hungry squad of 2004 is jaded and disinterested in 2006.

White should never have needed hindsight to recognize the frailties and limitations of a team that won him a Tri Nations in his first attempt. But – and it’s a massive but – never won away from home in achieving it. All three Tri Nations teams won two matches in 2004 and the Boks triumphed because of bonus points.

The champion tag of 2004 created an illusion that a good young side was indeed a great one. Great ones win all four in the Tri Nations and go onto Europe and crush what the north serve as a main course on match day. The Boks have never done this under White.

More to the point has been the Boks form away from home in the last three years. In 2004: lost to New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and England. In 2005: lost to Australia, beat Australia, lost to New Zealand and lost to France. In 2006: lost to Australia and New Zealand. If that’s the squad for the World Cup in France next year, then why bother going?

This squad needs change – and quickly.

White’s conservatism I fear will be his worst enemy in the weeks ahead.

But let’s be bold on this Monday morning and give him the benefit of the doubt. Let’s believe he has seen the light on the flight between Wellington and Sydney and recognized there is life beyond those tortured tourists wearing green in Sydney this week.

At fullback Percy Montgomery must rest and be reassessed at the end of the Currie Cup. Breyton Paulse is operating on memory and Bryan Habana is suffering a serious case of second season blues. Wynand Olivier is doing a holding job, Ricky Januarie craves a burger more than he does a win against the best teams, the loose-trio hasn’t had balance since Schalk Burger’s neck gave in and the tighthead prop situation won’t be solved on tour.

So what can White do?

There are players good enough to step into test rugby now. Ruan Pienaar and Brad Barritt offer enterprise at halfback. Butch James’s best position is inside centre and Joe van Niekerk, Juan Smith and Luke Watson are a loose-trio with balance, skill, two lineout options and an openside specialist.

Brent Russell would be a magician if he was Australian, French or a Kiwi. In the Bok set-up he is Tommy Tourist. BJ Botha is the best tighthead in the country and, until injury put him out for six weeks, Schalk Brits should have been shadowing John Smit.

If White had shown insight, instead of having to rely on tired old hindsight, he would have played a different tighthead, flank, No 8, scrumhalf, flyhalf, inside centre, wing and fullback against New Zealand.

Now that he has hindsight, we can only hope some of those changes are made in Sydney.

He can’t be fooled by Wellington. The Bok players get up for one jersey – and that’s the black one. The Bok blood never gets boiling for a battle with Aussie. It is not in our player’s psyche. We have folklore to curse for that.

All that has ever mattered to a young Bok player is beating New Zealand. But times have changed and now you have to beat New Zealand, Australia, England, France and occasionally Ireland.

The Boks gave it everything against a New Zealand mix and match XV, were given seven points after 15 seconds and still lost by 18 points. It tells us those who played are not good enough. It should tell White to give others a chance.