While Jake White was praising the efforts of Pierre Spies, the fine performance of the Bulls loose-forward only highlighted the selection shambles of the national squad this season.
Spies was not in the original group of 40 in May. Then he was added for a fitness test and sent away to play for the SA under 21s. He was the star performer at the tournament, which South Africa lost in the final to France. The Bok selectors then drafted him into the squad and played him at No 8 against the Wallabies in Brisbane. Playing out of position, he was awful and White dropped him out of the match 22. He sat in the stands for the remaining two tests in New Zealand and Australia.
The Boks returned home and White sent him home to play Currie Cup rugby. The team to play the All Blacks was picked and Spies was not in it. He was not even on the bench. Then Juan Smith got injured and Joe van Niekerk was picked. Spies was then introduced to the bench. Van Niekerk got injured and White drafted in Pedrie Wannenburg. However, he did not want to play either against the All Blacks in Pretoria. The coach wanted to select Albert van den Berg at flank and keep Spies on the bench. Sanity prevailed and Spies was played, albeit more as closed side flank option, with Solly Tyibilika keeping the openside jersey. Wannenburg was on the bench and AJ Venter was playing Currie Cup rugby.
The Boks got rolled.
Then this week White stumbled on the loose-trio of AJ Venter, Wannenburg and Spies and as a unit they came good for him. Now please tell me there was any planning to that. And for White to boast that the Boks have a loose-trio that can stand with the All Blacks’ finest on the basis of one match is clutching at straws. Spies had a great outing, but had the score finished at 20-18 one of Richie McCaw or Dan Carter would have been the man of the match.
White persists with the belief that there are not better players outside of his squad. I dispute that and what the loose-trio showed on Saturday was the folly in White’s refusal to change.
Ruan Pienaar also showed up the weakness in selection. For two months White has resisted picking the player. Now he is applauding the impact of the guy.
The criticism of White has been that he has not changed because of any insight. The only change that has come in the last few weeks has been because of injury and has been forced on him. That hardly inspires confidence. And neither does his comment that Percy Montgomery will be considered as a fullback against Australia.
As Stuart Barnes wrote in the London Sunday Times. South Africa would take any win at this stage, but that one pointer may prove to be more costly in the long term because again you get the feeling people here think everything is okay. It most definitely is not.
And we’ll see that when the Boks go on the road again, which is where the World Cup will be played.