When selectors box clever

The Springbok team to play Wales should only show one change from that which beat England in the World Cup final.

It is that time of the year when everyone picks the Springbok team. And the guy who makes it among the mass market is usually the try scorer from last Saturday’s win, the try saver or the line breaker.

Individuals make the team as opposed to combinations, the public and media get high on a particular player and the national coach invariably cringes because when it comes to the picking of the Bok team the coach invariably looks to combinations first and individuals second.

For example, no one in the early part of the Super 14 picked Juan Smith in their Bok form XV. Yes he has been injured of late but even in the first few weeks of the tournament Smith struggled to make the so-called Super 14 form XV’s. One two counts it is absurd because the class of the player is such that he is the best closed side flanker in the world and if he was playing for a top two Super 14 team no one would dispute it.

Form in the Super 14 is largely determined by team performance. Few guys ever excel over three months playing alongside a bunch of duds.

The guy at the Sharks this season looks a damn side better than the guy at the Lions, but put an undeniable talent at the Lions in the Sharks team and he may just look so much more impressive than the guy at the Sharks.

That’s what the national coach and his selectors have to continually weigh up. How good would player ‘A’ be if he was playing for team ‘B’? How good would that scrumhalf be in combination with that flyhalf, especially if his pack was gaining yards and not waving a white flag?

What the World Cups in 2003 and 2007 proved beyond doubt was the value of experience. The most experienced England team of all time won the World Cup in 2003. Jake White’s Boks who started against England in the World Cup final were the most experienced side ever fielded. That’s a statement of what works.

Take this Super 14 as an example. As well as Tonderai Chavhanga has played, how do you leave out JP Pietersen or Bryan Habana? Pietersen was immense as a 21 year-old at the World Cup, but he hasn’t scored a try in this year’s Super 14. So what, chop him and pick Chavhanga? It’s crazy talk.

What should be written is that if Pietersen or Habana are injured there appears to be a capable replacement in Chavhanga or the twins Odwa and Akona Ndungane.

The media is to blame for the fueling of these weekly team selection fires. They pick and drop players based on a Super 14 game when the national coach has to assess what this player can do in the test environment, especially when played in combination with someone else.

And comparing Super rugby to test rugby is like comparing the grass-court of Wimbledon to the clay-court of the French Open. They are different games, which often require players with different skills.

South Africa is so blessed that the core of the World Cup-winning squad still has four years of international rugby as a team. Why discard the guys who time and again have done it and won the ultimate prize in Paris?

Phase in the youngsters and second tier with that comfort of having a guy who has been there.

The Super 14 should be about identifying the add-ons to a successful national squad and not a new national squad.

Would it be wise to pick Conrad Jantjes and Peter Grant at 15 and 10 in a test for the first time against Wales when you have the luxury of Percy Montgomery and Butch James? In my opinion, the answer is no. But if you play the one in tandem with the other and vice versa, knowing the older blokes will be out of here by 2010 you build a team and you build a young player.

Of the World Cup-winning run on XV, you have to invest (for now) in Montgomery, Pietersen, Fourie (provided he is fit by June), Steyn, Habana, James, Du Preez, Rossouw, Smith, Burger, Matfield, Botha, Van der Linde and … ah there’s the new guy (at loose-head).

The rest then make up the group; be it Jantjes, De Villiers, Grant, De Kock, Chavhanga, Kankowski, Sowerby, Van Heerden, Spies, Bekker, Mujati, Du Plessis or Heinke van der Merwe.

Experience of writing about Springbok rugby for 15 years tells me there is never a substitute for experience in test rugby.

If we were playing Wales in the World Cup final in June, which of the 14 available Boks from October 20 in Paris would you drop? Personally, I wouldn’t drop one of them.