Invest in form and not test caps

Form should be the basis of Jake White’s selections for the three tests against Ireland and England, writes Keo in his Business Day column.

Experience in test rugby is relative to circumstance and so too is inexperience. White, in his appraisal of the Boks win against the Wallabies, said his team had beaten a Wallabies backline with the most combined test caps in the country’s history. What was the relevance?

Absolutely none on two counts, the first being that it doesn’t matter who plays nine to 15 if numbers one to eight are getting smashed. The second is that test experience, without the necessary form, is meaningless.

An example of this is Percy Montgomery and JP Pietersen. The Boks lost 49-0 to Australia with the second most capped Bok player at fullback. On Saturday they hammered Australia with a 20 year-old making his test debut. Test caps were irrelevant to each player’s performance. In Brisbane Montgomery was in poor form. In Johannesburg Pietersen was in very good form.

White this year has resisted picking form players from the domestic scene. He has defended selections on the basis of test experience, continuity and familiarity to his systems – systems in which players conceded 22 tries in the last seven tests, but scored only 12.

When France hammered the Boks by four tries to one at Newlands, White selected the most experienced test team in our country’s history. It meant nothing as France crushed the Boks.

White has also defended selections this season because of the need to win and the need to transform. Yet the coach did not win and he did not pick a team with an emphasis on transformation. The South African Rugby Union won’t fire White because they can’t afford to. If they got rid of White now, gave his support team the bullet and were then lumped with contracted players not capable of making the new coach’s squad, it would cost them an estimated R15 million to see one coach go and another arrive.

SARU’s incentive to keep White is based on costing and not a conviction that he has the ability to engineer World Cup success. White’s win record of two from seven against the leading teams falls short of the performance clause that stipulates a 50 percent success rate against this calibre of opposition. White picked only two black players against New Zealand and finished the game with 14 white players and Breyton Paulse. At Ellis Park only Pietersen and Ndungane started and Paulse replace Ndungane. The coach also failed on transformation numbers if that was a requirement for him to keep his job.

If SARU wanted to fire White they have a strong enough case because of lack of performance and lack of transformation. But they won’t fire him and that is why the team selections for the end of the year tour will determine whether next year’s World Cup will be nirvana or a nuisance for Bok supporters.

Changes have to be made and players in form need to be on the plane to London. To do this White is going to have to rethink his strategy of pulling his contracted players out of the Currie Cup and ignoring the claims of the form Currie Cup players.

Saturday’s win was a good one because the Wallabies were well beaten, but it was not a barometer in assessing the team’s improvement or evolution this year. The Wallabies don’t win in South Africa. Harry Viljoen and Rudolf Straeuli’s Boks beat Australia at home. There was no history making in beating the Wallabies on Saturday and that is why talk of having turned the corner is so dangerous.

Australia has won one from their last 19 overseas tests against the top five. The Boks beat a team that doesn’t win away from home, but this year South Africa lost to France and New Zealand at home and lost to Australia and New Zealand away from home.

The Boks were also outscored by almost two tries to one on average in the last seven tests. White’s season is defined by tries for and tries against and wins for and wins against. It is not defined by beating the Wallabies at Ellis Park.

Also significant is that the World Cup is played in Paris and not Johannesburg.

White’s investment now surely has to be in form players who can ask questions on the road and not experienced players who continually fail away from the comfort of home