Jacobs jols while Jaque flounders

Jaque Fourie’s development is being stifled by his loyalty to the Lions while Adi Jacobs is thriving at the Sharks.

Much has been made of their duel for the Springbok outside centre berth for the British & Irish Lions tour. However, at present Fourie is not even on the same planet as Jacobs in terms of form.

This has much to do with the fact that he plays in a side who are distinctly mediocre. Mediocrity is contagious and Fourie is down with a bad bout of the stuff.

That he has excelled on the Test stage despite playing with men inferior in ability and under limited coaches at provincial level says everything about his class. But it begs a deeper question: If Fourie has developed into one of the world’s best outside centres despite, not because of, playing at the Lions, how good could he be if he was surrounded by players of equal stature and coaches who were able to amplify his strengths and address his weaknesses?

Fourie’s contract with the Lions ends in October 2010 but he would be well advised to negotiate an early release if he has any ambition of touching the ceiling of his potential. If not, he will forever be remembered as a good player, when he should be remembered as a great.

While the 26-year-old Fourie falters, the incumbent Springbok outside centre Jacobs is thriving in an environment where he is constantly being challenged, improved and encouraged in self-expression.

He has been outstanding in the opening four rounds of the tournament and barring a dramatic slump in form or serious injury he will start against the Lions.

His performances cannot be viewed in isolation of course. The fact that he has a pack who has substance and style, a scrumhalf who is on his own quest for national recognition and a 10-12 axis who are improving weekly, needs to be taken into account.

In contrast, Fourie relies on an over-hyped forward unit, a useful but unspectacular scrumhalf, injury-plagued flyhalf and ordinary inside centre, for him to thrive.

He has had offers from better franchises but has turned them all down. His loyalty has to be commended on one level, but Fourie needs to make a decision about whether he wants to explore the limits of his potential or whether he is content with scratching the surface.

When Jacobs retires he’ll know that he came close to being the very best player he could be. If Fourie’s loyalty continues to cloud his judgement he won’t be able to say the same thing.

By Ryan Vrede