On a wing and a prayer

Jake White is already talking of playing Sharks flyhalf Francois Steyn as a wing on the end of year tour. Let’s hope Steyn isn’t another Meyer Bosman story in a year’s time.

Steyn, yet to turn 20, played flyhalf and fullback for the Sharks in this year’s Currie Cup. He had one outstanding match, at flyhalf against Western Province. The weather conditions were shocking and Steyn walked on water that night. Since then he has been unable to reproduce that kind of performance, but the national selectors will use that one match as an example of his capability.

The debate in Durban has centred around Steyn’s best position. Some say fullback and others say flyhalf. None has put him on the wing.

But White believes he could play wing for the Springboks and the noises coming from the Bok coach are similar to when he picked the ‘unknown’ Bosman to tour last year and within a fortnight had hyped the kid so much that most expected to see Jesus running out at flyhalf against the Welsh. When Bosman played and showed all the vulnerability of a 20 year-old playing his first test match, when he had not yet started a Currie Cup match, White saw it otherwise, telling everyone just how good Bosman had been.

Bosman, who kicked a fantastic pressure penalty to give his team a share of the Currie Cup at the weekend, has dropped off the national radar. White picked him for the overseas Tri Nations tests, but never played him. So much for the kid who was supposedly a god send at flyhalf, centre, wing and fullback.

Now White is talking about another big, strong and strapping youngster who apparently has it all.

White told the media post the team announcement that Bevan Fortuin would start at fullback and that Steyn could slot in on the wing, which means that one of Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie, JP Pietersen, Akona Ndungane or Wynand Olivier could be the other wing. You never know with the Bok coach.

He has one of the best midfield combinations in the game in De Villiers and Fourie, but both have played on the wing for him and Fourie also played fullback against the All Blacks in Rustenburg.

Northern hemisphere tours have been known to kill off young careers, but it would be a travesty if Steyn is a former Bok at 20 because of a lack of planning around him.

White told the media he had spoken to Steyn’s school coach and he was satisfied that the player had the speed to play wing. Why did White not bother to speak to his provincial coach Dick Muir, who works with the player every day to assess the speed credentials of the guy? He may be talented but we know he is not Bryan Habana when it comes to pace.

It is Steyn’s selection that will hog the headlines, primarily because of his age and because the jury is out as to whether or not he is ready. The decision to pick him needs to be applauded if the selectors have a plan with him that does take him to the World Cup. They told us they had a plan with Bosman and clearly they didn’t.

Pietersen is another who must be wondering if he is going to Ireland and England to hold tackle bags again. The young Sharks utility back spent five weeks in Australasia hugging those bags and after just one appearance at fullback against Australia in the last Tri nations match, it seems that Fortuin has moved past him. Do I agree with that? No.

Pietersen was as good as we could have expected on test debut and surely he deserves an extended run on this tour. Perhaps White will surprise us and actually pick Pietersen and give him a fair run. We wait.

Pierre Spies is another who showed on Saturday that rugby is a team game and if your colleagues aren’t working you into space or giving you the quick go forward ball, it looks a lot different. Spies has been outstanding with a dominant tight five and when running off quick phase ball. Against the Cheetahs the Bulls tight five were not dominant and the only ball Spies got was static. He looked as pedestrian as any other No 8 would have in that situation, which again shows up the ignorance of those who compared Spies to Luke Watson in the Bulls semi-final win.

Not only was Spies playing No 8 and Watson as openside, but Spies was behind a firing pack. It did not deter the Sunday papers from writing that hopefully Spies had ended the Watson mania. The very same papers certainly weren’t writing that Kabamba Floors had ended the Spies mania.

Floors gets to join Watson in the off-season knowing that he is not big enough to impress Jake and that his time will come once Jake is gone. The only comfort is that this will be in a year’s time because White has said, win the World Cup or crash out in the quarter-finals, he will not continue.

White’s aim now is to have success against Ireland and England. He believes he has picked a team capable of winning all three. It reminds me of when Rudolf Straeuli ignored Currie Cup form in 2002, picked most of the Lions team that got belted in the final and ignored the Bulls who won the final. Off the Boks went to France, Scotland and England. And off came the wheels with three record-breaking defeats.

White says this tour will be different. He’s now got a wing and hopefully also a prayer or two.