Focus on deadly Du Preez

Stop worrying about goalkicking undoing the Boks against the British & Irish Lions. Only start worrying if Fourie du Preez’s line kicking is absent, writes Keo in his weekly Business Day newspaper column.

Du Preez did not play this weekend and his absence was another reminder of his value to the Bulls and South African rugby. Du Preez is the best scrumhalf in the game and he is also fundamental to the Springboks because he controls the flow and pace of a match.

There is no halfback with a more accurate line kicking game and tactically there is no scrumhalf who can play field position with such ease.

The Springboks, blessed for talent in most areas, don’t have a replacement for Du Preez. Ricky Januarie, when in form, is capable and energetic and Lions scrumhalf Jano Vermaak is talented. But neither has the presence, poise or influence of Du Preez.

When assessing the merits of the Springboks against the British & Irish Lions it is at No 9 that the biggest advantage is gained if Du Preez is available. Much of the media focus has been on No 10 and the return from injury of Ruan Pienaar. Too much has also been made of Pienaar’s apparent frailties as a goal kicker, when it has never been an issue in the past.

When Pienaar started against Wales, Scotland and England last November it was accepted goal kicking was part of his game, and he kicked well enough for no one to give it a second thought. Now it is suddenly a problem area because 12 years ago Henry Honiball, Percy Montgomery and Andre Joubert missed three conversions and three penalties in an 18-15 series deciding defeat to the Lions.

The paranoia about goal kicking within the Bok squad is not warranted. Pienaar is good enough to succeed with 70 percent of his kicks and the Boks are good enough to win because of their ability to outscore the Lions.

This is a series that will be influenced by the experience of those who won South Africa the 2007 World Cup, and Du Preez is primary among the core of those players who remain integral to the Springboks run-on XV.

Age should not be a deterrent in assessing the qualities of veteran Sharks fullback Stefan Terblanche. If Terblanche’s form is good enough he should be considered.

Springbok coach Peter de Villiers has to view the Lions series in isolation to anything else. It should not form part of the 2011 World Cup preparations. It is a kind of World Cup on its own because it only comes around every 12 years.

De Villiers, in most positions, has comfort. He can afford to lose a centre, a wing and a loose-forward to injury because these positions offer choice and depth, but losing Du Preez would not be as easily overcome.

The grapevine talk of playing one of Jaque Fourie or JP Pietersen at fullback is a concern because there is no need for anyone to be playing out of position. Fourie and Pietersen started their professional provincial careers as fullbacks, but internationally it is at centre and wing respectively that they flourished.

To play either at fullback creates a risk when none is needed. Neither has a strong kicking game and that has to be the major consideration because the tourists’ flyhalf options of Ronan O’Gara and Stephen Jones are very good tactical kickers.

Terblanche, as a fullback, has excelled for the Sharks in 2009, but the form fullback in South Africa has been Zane Kirchner of the Bulls. He is explosive, has pace and is a natural reader of the game. Why pick one of the world’s best centres at fullback, when you have a young fullback running hot?

Lions utility back Earl Rose will be in the squad, but I agree with World Cup-winning coach Jake White that Rose will make a bigger international impact at flyhalf than fullback, especially if guided by the experience of Du Preez on his inside and Jean de Villiers on his outside. Pienaar is the starting 10, but Rose provides cover and a goal kicking option.

I keep on hearing fear talk of similarities between 1997 and now, but it is not possible to compare the disjointed Springboks of 12 years ago with the settled World Cup holders in 2009.

The Boks will be in good shape and when Du Preez is there the good becomes very good because his line-kicking will be more decisive than Pienaar’s goal kicking.