Peter de Villiers’ squad selection for their pointless friendly against the Namibia XV is perplexing.
The match would have had value if senior players like Schalk Burger, Jean de Villiers and Ruan Pienaar, who De Villiers insists is ‘fit as a fiddle’, were given a run to ensure they didn’t go into the British & Irish Lions series undercooked.
Pienaar, for example, will now start the first Test on 20 June having not played a competitive match in over a month. Burger and De Villiers will get limited game time, and, having both been sidelined for extended periods, will surely not be match ready by the King’s Park Test.
Either the senior players are still carrying injuries sustained in the Super 14 (he denies this), or he is wary of losing them to injury, or is resigned to the fact that nothing can be achieved without his full strength side, or he hopes to get a clear idea of which of the fringe players have the aptitude to fill the remaining voids in his squad.
He provided no clarity in this regard at a press conference in Pretoria on Wednesday, displaying the errant attitude that marked his first year in charge.
De Villiers insisted that he didn’t see those he selected to front the Namibia XV as fringe players, holding firm that if they are good enough to play at Super Rugby level they were good enough to play for their country.
One would like to think De Villiers, barring a couple of positions, has settled on his match 22 for the first Test. Yet he peddled the idea that all the players in his squad have an equal opportunity to crack that squad. Perplexing. One can only imagine what the foreign press, unaccustomed to De Villiers’ confusing offerings to the media, were thinking.
De Villiers also intimated that it didn’t matter which players he selected provided they were able to ‘make the shift in mindset’. Presumably that means playing more expansively, but captain John Smit quickly tempered those comments by insisting that they had the ability to play more conservatively should the match situation dictate that approach.
There would be some value in this pointless Windhoek hit-out if the Namibia XV had fielded a stronger side. It looked at one stage that they would, until the major unions withdrew their players, explaining that they needed to focus on their preparation for their fixtures against the Lions.
With the exception of Morgan Newman and Jean Deysel, De Villiers should know what he has in the bulk of the run-on side he has selected. Eighty minutes against a weak Namibia XV will teach him nothing more about those likely to play a peripheral role in the Lions series or indeed about Newman and Deysel.
However, should injury strike any of his key players, or indeed those who will provide cover for them, De Villiers could be privately lamenting a match that should never have happened.
By Ryan Vrede