Where to play Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie? That’s among the big posers given Jake White’s selections for the year-end tour.
De Villiers and Fourie as a combination are the best in the world. Yes, Brian O’Driscoll is the best centre and Stirling Mortlock is the best in the southern hemisphere. Florian Fritz is quality and so is Mr Jauzion. But as a combination the one thing that works with the Boks is when De Villiers starts at No 12 and Fourie is on his outside.
But the limitations in Bok squad selection when it comes to wingers and fullbacks, not to mention the inexperience, means it is probable that De Villiers could play some of the tests on the wing and Fourie could play on the wing or at fullback. Neither is foreign to these positions, but it would seem a travesty to break up the one combination that does work for the Boks.
White, in selecting for the Irish test, will be in two minds. He can break up the combination and play De Villiers on the wing and Wynand Olivier at inside centre and keep Fourie at outside centre. Or he can play Fourie on the wing, keep De Villiers at inside centre and play one of Olivier or new cap Jaco Pretorius at outside centre.
What will keep White honest in this selection is the prospect of playing against one of the most settled midfield combinations in D’Arcy and O’Driscoll.
The other alternative is to to play Olivier and Pretorius as his midfield, but this may be construed to be too much of a risk for White.
Ronan O’Gara’s kicking game is meaningful to Ireland, especially when they play at home and White knows his back three, should he play three of Fortuin, Pietersen, Ndungane or Steyn, is very vulnerable and has no test experience as a unit.
These are among the decisions White must make in the next few days and his comments that some players will be rusty for the Irish test indicates those who play against Ireland will start the first test against England.
White had the Bok contracted players withdrawn from the Currie Cup, en-masse, and the results on this tour will act as a judgement on whether or not it was the right call.
In the past White, like all other Bok coaches, has complained of player fatigue when it comes to the November tests. Now he can’t use the excuse. And the excuse of players being ring-rusty won’t wash, not when it was self inflicted.
Players like De Villiers and Fourie have not played since the first week in September and as we saw with Pedrie Wannenburg (in the Currie Cup final) and Richie McCaw (in Canterbury’s quarter-final defeat to Wellington) it doesn’t matter how good you are, you need game time.
McCaw, like Wannenburg, battled.
Many of White’s Boks have not played a match in two months. And he only has 80 minutes to get the tour off to a flying start. Alternatively, it needs just the first 80 minutes to condemn the tour to a horror show.
If ever White needed the likes of De Villiers, Fourie and his captain John Smit to stand tallest, it will be in November.