Dick Muir’s reluctance to play Brent Russell at fullback is rooted in the fear that teams may look to exploit his size.
And though he has selected Russell in the position for the Sharks game against Griquas tonight, he continues to have serious reservations about the player’s aptitude for the role.
Russell is possibly South Africa’s most most elusive runner and certainly the most devastating counterattacking player of his generation, has had to accept his lot as a wing in recent seasons because of fears surrounding his all-round defensive ability.
At 1.73m he is taller than England fullback, Jason Robertson (1.72m), who has been a key attacking element in the English armory in his 39 Tests.
Robinson’s size was also criticised when the Sale Sharks player first entered international rugby but he has since silenced the dissenters with a career marked by breathtaking displays of attacking rugby and perhaps more importantly, confidence under the Gary Owen.
Muir said he feared playing Russell at No 15 would play to the opposition’s favour.
“From a coaching point of view we feel Brent is a bit vulnerable when he plays at fullback because of his size,” he told Keo.co.za.
“Teams will always look to test him under the high ball and if their outside backs are quick and alert he could be in trouble every time.”
It has been well documented that Russell’s positional versatility is also his bane. And Muir concurs, but rejected the suggestion the constant shifting of Russell will eventually lead to the 26-year-old attaining ‘master of none’ status.
“Brent can play in any position in the backline but I’ve got mixed feelings about the suggestion that it could also be harmful to him.
“This is a team sport and players need to do what’s best for the team. And that’s always been Brent’s attitude,” he said.
“On the other hand I think his best position is at fullback. But that is the dilemma we face. Play him there and risk opening ourselves to attack, or play him on the wing where he can be equally destructive.”
Muir’s other Springbok discards Percy Montgomery and Solly Tyibilika failed to make the match 22, and when asked about their non-selection Muir was guarded in his response.
“Percy wasn’t ever available for selection,” he said, “it was requested that he be rested.
“Solly didn’t train with us this week,” he said, refusing to elaborate on reasons why the opensider hadn’t joined the Durban-based side in preparation for their Absa Currie Cup match.
What’s perplexing though is that Springbok coach Jake White said that with Schalk Burger injured, Tyibilika was the best openside flanker in South Africa.
Now he can’t make a Currie Cup side to play Griquas.
“I don’t want to talk about that,” was Muir’s response when probed on the issue.
He rejected media reports quoting him saying that Tyibilika’s exclusion was due to him having not been part of the team and so was unfamiliar with the Sharks’ new structures.
“What I can say is that, from a coaches perspective, it is important that a player spends time with the team so that they add value to the set phases and other forward disciplines.”
By Ryan Vrede