Boks need wise heads

Keo, in his weekly Business Day column, says leadership will be more important than goalkicking in the Lions series.

In a season that has produced no South African wonder boy in the Super 14, what has emerged is the continued maturity of the established Springboks.

But before I get to that and one player in particular, Sharks scrumhalf Rory Kockott is doing a Mexican wave of his own that is becoming increasingly hard for the national selectors to ignore.

As well as Kockott is playing, is there place in the Boks for him just yet? Or should he be introduced in the Tri-Nations against opponents he has dominated in the Super 14?

There should be no experiment in the Lions series and the rational thinking is to play the established national scrumhalf duo of Fourie du Preez and Ricky Januarie. They’ve been there often and done it against the best.

I get the feeling though that Kockott’s shares are being improved significantly because of a fear that goalkicking will cost the Boks against the Lions as it did 12 years ago. I believe those fears are unfounded. Kockott is a good goal-kicker, but so are Ruan Pienaar and Butch James, if national coach Peter de Villiers still believes the Bath-based World Cup winner can make a contribution. I for one would not play the Lions without James in the match 22, given his experience, his knowledge of the opposition and his temperament to deliver in the biggest matches.

James kicked at 80% for the Boks last season, while Pienaar’s goalkicking was not an issue against Wales, Scotland and England. Kockott has the all-round scrumhalf game to play for SA, but he should not be the goalkicking insurance policy in his introduction to international rugby. It was done to Percy Montgomery against the Lions in 1997 and it was wrong.

Back then Bok coach Carel du Plessis picked Henry Honiball and Andre Joubert for the Durban second Test, and both had won many matches for the Sharks with their goalkicking. The notion has to be rubbished that the Boks played that game without a recognised kicker. In Honiball, Joubert and Montgomery they had three blokes who could kick. The mistake of the coaches was that they never settled on one of the three to start and finish.

The Boks have a core of players settled enough not to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors in 1997. If De Villiers is more measured than maverick then the quality of the hosts will triumph and he will ensure his contract is extended to include the defence of the World Cup in 2011. De Villiers last year entrusted the majority of the 2007 World Cup winners, but a player who lost favour was Sharks captain Johann Muller. De Villiers introduced Stormers lock Andries Bekker to complement Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, but Muller’s growth as a leader with the Sharks and his consistency has to have made an impression on De Villiers.

Muller, if he was playing in any other country, would be the first choice lock and probably the captain as well. In many respects he reminds me of Proteas cricketer Johan Botha. Both have calmness. Both are massively underrated and both have an understanding of the game that gives them an edge as leaders. If the national selectors are thinking of Kockott as a goalkicking insurance policy I’d say think twice before including a third scrumhalf.

But I’d encourage them to invest in Muller as a captaincy insurance policy to incumbent John Smit and lock back up to Bakkies Botha. Leadership, more than goalkicking, will prove decisive against the best of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. In Muller, South African rugby has one of the best.

We shouldn’t be too disheartened by the indifferent, awful and bizarre performances of the Lions, Cheetahs and Stormers in the Super 14. The Sharks and Bulls are enough of a presence to give SA comfort ahead of the Lions in June.

For now, enjoy the Sharks, believe in the home run of the Bulls and know that there isn’t an Australian or New Zealand team capable in this year’s tournament to travel to Durban or Pretoria to win a semi-final. Our rugby is in good shape, and the wiser heads among the players are the ones in the best shape.