The lack of a proven insurance policy at flyhalf could prove problematic for the Springboks.
I have been open in my belief that Ruan Pienaar needs to be given an extended run at flyhalf if the Springboks’ coaching staff see him as the future in the position.
That view hasn’t changed, but his introduction to the position at Test level should come with an insurance policy in the form of Butch James.
At present Frans Steyn is the official cover for Pienaar. However, Steyn’s Test experience in the position has been limited to a handful of replacement appearances and one start against a C-grade Italy. None of those performances have been particularly impressive and some have been diabolical. This highlights the importance of having an experienced pivot to cover in event of poor form or injury.
There were legitimate concerns voiced about the amount of rugby James has played in the last two years, with some even suggesting that missing the year-end tour would be good for him from a conditioning perspective.
But James is expected to play a central role in Bath’s Premiership campaign in November, when, with some negotiation between SA Rugby and Bath, he could have been aiding in Pienaar’s development and providing cover on the wood.
He has extensive experience in northern hemisphere conditions, having excelled in them for Bath last season, as well as a knowledge most of the Wales, Scotland and particularly England players the Springboks will face over the three Tests.
His omission becomes even more perplexing when you consider that third-choice flyhalf, Earl Rose, has been inconsistent in the Absa Currie Cup and showed little to suggest that he could control a Test match or make an impact off the bench.
Nothing can be done to change the situation now, but the same error cannot be made for the British and Irish Lions
Tour in mid 2009.
James has intimated that the series will be his last at Test level, but he still has a crucial role to play with the Springboks, especially in the development of Pienaar.
By Ryan Vrede