Pragmatism must rule over emotion

Unless there is political interference this week, there should be no Bok World Cup squad shocks.

The soft underbelly of Jake White’s World Cup squad is flyhalf and there are limitations in the midfield and on the wing should first choice players get injured during the tournament. The quality of the squad, to be made official on July 21, is among the forwards.

There will be no surprises and there won’t be any non-internationals selected. Gone are the days of romance when it comes to Bok World Cup selection. Don’t see this as a criticism, but as a compliment to the manner in which the squad has been put together. Pragmatism has ruled over emotion and it is why the Springboks in Paris will be among the tournament favourites.

The bulk of White’s 30 players have been playing for the Boks for the last four years and this continuity in formulating a World Cup squad selection is foreign to previous campaigns.

The certainty of the squad could all change in the early part of next week should there be political interference and a greater emphasis on reinforcing the transformation illusion. Hopefully this will not be the case and rugby selection sanity will be allowed to triumph.

Akona Ndungane is the only black African in the squad and if there were no political considerations he would not be there. His form has not been good enough and he is not good enough.

Transformation is an issue in South African rugby, but the true fight to right the wrongs must be fought in next year’s Super 14 and all South Africa’s domestic competitions. There is no winner in bluffing the situation by adding a colour component to the World Cup squad.

Politicians will condemn the lack of black Africans in the squad, but the emotional outburst must be aimed at the system that has failed the Bok coach instead of a Bok coach who has failed the system. The playing pool of black African players is not there and of those who have previously been selected all of Solly Tyibilika, Lawrence Sephaka, Gcobani Bobo and Hanyani Shimange have not delivered when given opportunities.

The form players are going to the World Cup and unlike 2003 the right players have been selected. The sifting process has been thorough in the last two years and while provincial media will still argue the claims of a Shark versus a Bull or a Lion versus a Stormer, independent observers have been unanimous in who constitutes the best Bok team.

White has succeeded in finding the balance between youth and experience and if the Boks are going to win in Paris it will be because of this blend.

The strongest Bok 22 is as good as any New Zealand, Australia, France, England and Ireland can select. The Boks could play two different packs and the only void would be when Schalk Burger does not play. However, the same depth is not there among the backs and this is the Achilles heel.

Butch James at flyhalf is the best option, but he has a history of knee problems. Lose him to injury and the Boks have problems. So too Andre Pretorius, another with an injury record as long as Percy Montgomery’s goalkicking record. Bryan Habana’s pace also adds a dimension for which there is no cover and Montgomery’s worth has been highlighted when he has not played. He is critical to a successful campaign.

The selectors have consistently spoken of a 17 forwards and 13 backs mix and they have supported the equation with sound argument.

White has also advocated versatility as selection criteria and players who can cover more than one position have been favoured over specialists.

There can’t be much debate over the forward composition, given White’s philosophy and style of play. He has been true to his belief of how he wants to play and who is best qualified to do this. BJ Botha and CJ van der Linde are his tightheads, Os du Randt and Gurthro Steenkamp the looseheads and John Smit leads the hooker trio. The frontline locks select themselves and Johann Muller and Albert van den Berg are the cover.

White’s loose-forwards conform to a specific type of player, which White has stressed is non-negotiable to what he believes will work at the World Cup. They must be tall, a lineout option and be able to play 6, 7 and 8. Schalk Burger, Juan Smith, Danie Rossouw and Pierre Spies are the frontline quartet, Bob Skinstad will play a supporting and influential role as player and leader and the remaining loose-forward place is one of Wikus van Heerden or Pedrie Wanneburg, with the former destined for Paris.

The halfbacks of Fourie du Preez, Ricky Januarie and Ruan Pienaar have no challenge, James and Pretorius will be selected at flyhalf, with the latter’s participation subject to fitness, and the first choice midfield and back three are also not an issue.

The juggling comes in the back up midfielder and wingers. Ordinarily it would be one of Ndungane, Breyton Paulse or JP Pietersen. The need to improve the racial component means two of the three may well be picked, but this throws the balance of the midfield and possibly even the balance of the 17-13 split. If there is political interference one forward could lose out to accommodate the additional black backline player.

Pretorius’s fitness could prove decisive because if he doesn’t make it then Peter Grant could cover flyhalf and inside centre, which would mean keeping the 17 forwards and picking Pietersen and Ndungane.

Wynand Olivier, as the back-up centre, is a luxury and it would be hard to counter the lobbying of Waylon Murray’s selection ahead of Olivier.
Boks World Cup squad

Props: BJ Botha, CJ van der Linde, Os du Randt, Gurthro Steenkamp
Hookers: John Smit, Bismarck du Plessis, Gary Botha
Locks: Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Johann Muller, Albert van den Berg
L/Forwards: Schalk Burger, Juan Smith, Pierre Spies, Danie Rossouw, Bob Skinstad, Wikus van Heerden

F/B: Percy Montgomery, Francois Steyn
Wing: Bryan Habana, Ashwin Willemse, Akona Ndugane
Centres: Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers, Wynand Olivier/Waylon Murray
F/H: Butch James, Andre Pretorius
S/H: Fourie du Preez, Ricky Januarie, Ruan Pienaar

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