Springbok coach Peter de Villiers has every right to back Earl Rose, but that publicly-stated belief means nothing unless it translates into game time.
De Villiers has been lambasted for his perceived fascination with Rose. However, he isn’t the first Springbok coach to back a dark horse who is relatively untested at Super Rugby level, and certainly won’t be the last.
He’s been pretty unequivocal in his faith in the Lions’ utility-back, even offering this pearler at a press conference on Monday, ‘Ruan Pienaar is the Tiger Woods of rugby and I believe Earl Rose is in the same class.’
The question that needs to be asked is not why he rates him so highly, but rather if he rates him so highly when will he let Tiger tee off?
Talking Rose up is easy. A tangible manifestation of that belief would be selection at Test level. If Rose is as good as De Villiers would have us believe, why not start him against the British & Irish Lions?
He spent the 2008 end of year tour carrying tackle bags, and De Villiers has been quoted as saying that that tour familiarised him with their playing structures. So that cannot be offered as an excuse for his omission from a Test 22, should De Villiers overlook him.
Conrad Jantjes’s injury and the subsequent non-selection of a specialist fullback has offered the coach an opportunity to start his special project, who he said is part of his plans for the 2011 World Cup.
He’s kept his cards close in terms of who will start at fullback, but the smart money is on JP Pietersen or Jaque Fourie, both of whom have had significantly less game time at 15 than Rose has in recent years.
If he’s not going to start Rose now, when will he? In the Tri-Nations against some of the world’s best players? On the year end tour against France, Italy or Ireland? In the incoming tour of 2010, or the Tri-Nations later in that year? If in 2010, he will have just a handful of Tests to adjust to the unique physical and tactical demands of Test rugby before the tournament in New Zealand. Does that serve the player and the national interest?
Does his reluctance to start Rose mean there’s a succession plan that hasn’t reached fruition yet? If so, De Villiers has given no indication of the existence on such a plan, only responses laced with frustration when probed about Rose. Or could it be that De Villiers’s public support for the player isn’t consistent with his personal view, which may have been altered after watching Roses’ indifferent performances in the Super 14?
If De Villiers is going to continue to be as vehement in his belief that Rose is the business, then he has to back that belief with action.
De Villiers’s cause isn’t being helped by the Golden Lions’ reluctance to start Rose. They are clearly not as taken with him, and the fact that they refused De Villiers’s request for him to start in a mid-week game against the British & Irish Lions made the statement that they won’t be bullied into his selection. If this is the case, Rose could watching from the bench when the Currie Cup rolls around. It follows logically that he would then not start in the 2010 Super 14.
It seems that unless De Villiers can broker a deal with Rose’s seemingly reluctant employees, he will have to give the player the game time he wishes he had in the Super 14, at Test level. The latter is the most likely scenario.
So, given the reality of Rose’s situation, it begs the question: When will De Villiers back his belief with action? I, for one, am not holding my breath.
By Ryan Vrede