Ricky’s back on the rocky road

Will Ricky Januarie get any game time in the Lions’ series? Does he deserve any?

It’s hard when your primary competition if the pre-eminent scrumhalf in world rugby and even at his best, Januarie is still inferior to Fourie du Preez. The problem is he hasn’t been at his best for the better part of six months.

The Stormers’ coaches dropped him in favour of a Super Rugby rookie and explained his omission as being part of their rotation policy. If you bought that spin you’d probably believe that the Bulls were lucky to beat the Chiefs as comprehensively as they did on Saturday.

After a series of solid performances for the Springboks in Du Preez’s injury-enforced absence in the early part of the 2008 season, Januarie is back where he was in 2006 and 2007, struggling for form at domestic level.

Springbok coach Peter de Villiers will never admit as much. In fact he’ll probably tell you Fourie du Preez is the Michael Jordan of the rugby world and that Januarie is in his class. But secretly Januarie’s experience at Test level would be his only basis for an argument should he be asked to list the merits of the Stormers man.

In 2007, Januarie was under pressure from an irrepressible Ruan Pienaar. Former coach Jake White tried to peddle the idea that Pienaar was a utility back, and deployed him accordingly, before conceding that he had overtaken Januarie in the pecking order, by installing Pienaar as Du Preez’s deputy.

In 2009, it’s Jano Vermaak that Januarie has, temporarily, beaten off. The Lions’ No 9 was one of the bright lights in an otherwise dim unit. If form was the primary criterion for selection, Vermaak would be preparing for upcoming Test series with the Springboks and not the Emerging Springboks.

But it’s not, and for that Januarie must be deeply thankful.

If, Lord forbid, Du Preez should be injured in the build-up to the Test series, the Springboks would be in a great deal of strife. Technically he is unmatched by any No 9 in world rugby, and he amplifies his potency by possessing arguably the most astute mind in the game. His excellent kicking game takes pressure off his flyhalf, and he also has the ability to strike around the fringes, making him unpredictable.

At his best Januarie is more battering ram than rapier, but that approach is only effective behind a pack who are dominating or achieving parity. The Springboks are expected to comfortably negotiate the Lions’ challenge, but aren’t favoured to school them at scrum time. Januarie would be severely tested should he be required to start.

Bulls coach Frans Ludeke didn’t substitute Du Preez tactically in any game this season. He realises his value on the track and it’s a self-defeating to hook the game’s best scrumhalf. Januarie will have something in common with Heini Adams throughout the Test series – a decent vantage point from the bench.

Adams doesn’t offer the Bulls enough to warrant being sent into on at Du Preez’s expense and neither does Januarie. Pienaar, in his previous incarnation as a scrumhalf, did and Vermaak would have as well.

In the three weeks that remain before the first Test in Durban Januarie needs to rediscover some touch if he is to avoid being the best paid spectator of the series. How he’ll achieve that without any more warm-up matches scheduled remains to be seen.

By Ryan Vrede