Playing Adi Jacobs inside Jaque Fourie is a midfield selection malady that could cost the Springboks dearly in Bloemfontein.
Keo.co.za has learned from an impeccable source that Jean de Villiers will warm the bench in Saturday’s Test against the All Blacks while Jacobs will start at inside centre. Fourie, South Africa’s form centre in 2009, will start his second Test of the season at No 13.
Fourie battled with injury last season which allowed Jacobs an opportunity to gain experience alongside De Villiers. By the end of 2008, Jacobs had more than filled the gap and was rightly nominated for the SA Player of the Year award. Although there were still those that pleaded for Fourie to start, Jacobs defied the critics with some consistent showings.
It’s been a very different story in 2009. Fourie excelled for a poor Lions side in the Super 14 and thrilled in the Test series against the British & Irish tourists scoring the try that helped South Africa win the Loftus Versfeld contest. Conversely, Jacobs provided his detractors with more ammunition through some flimsy defensive offerings in the first two Tests.
By the end of that series, it was clear Fourie needed to be utilised from the first whistle. Jacobs, on the other hand, wasn’t delivering the kind of performances needed to keep a player of Fourie’s class on the bench.
The Bok management are set to pick both in tandem this weekend, a midfield selection that is more than a little perplexing. De Villiers battled with a shoulder injury in the first Test which necessitated the introduction of Fourie at 13 and the shifting of Jacobs to 12, and didn’t that midfield combination struggle.
Lions assistant coach Warren Gatland spoke about targeting Jacobs before the Test, referring to him in no uncertain terms as the weak defensive link. When the Sharks midfielder shifted to 12, the Lions’ Jamie Roberts began to build some great momentum for a second phase attack, steamrolling the diminutive Jacobs time and again. Fourie was also placed under pressure as a result.
Having Ruan Pienaar, De Villiers and Jacobs as your 10-12-13 combination is already a risky selection defensively speaking, but playing Pienaar alongside Jacobs, bearing in mind Schalk Burger isn’t around to cover the inside channel due to his eight-week suspension, doesn’t make any sense.
Even if the Bok selectors go with Morne Steyn at pivot this Saturday, the hosts will battle to contain the All Blacks’ attack. No 12 Ma’a Nonu is a gifted runner with a devastating step, but his primary attribute is his strength. Expect him to target Jacobs’s channel as the visitors look to breach the advantage line and subsequently punish the Boks in the second and third phases.
No player can be excused for missing tackles, but the real problem with Jacobs is he fails to dominate the tackle. It is for this reason the small centre will be targeted by teams with large inside backs. They know they can breach the gain line whether Jacobs brings them to ground or not, and this in turn places outside defenders under pressure.
Why did Bryan Habana come off his wing when Stephen Jones hit Jacobs’s channel in the second Test? Jones was eventually scragged by Jacobs but managed to offload to Rob Kearney, and with Habana moving inside to help, the Lions’ fullback was given a free run on the outside.
Jacobs has proven himself to be an exciting attacking option at 13, but in applying the same logic that saw Fourie sidelined in 2008, Jacobs must now stand aside. Fourie is in fantastic form and is best complemented by De Villiers in midfield. They’re a tried and tested successful combination and will give the Boks what they need to succeed on both attack and defence.
An alternative to De Villiers is Wynand Olivier, a great distributor and defender who starred for the Super 14-winning Bulls earlier this year. Jacobs is the alternative at 13, and should not be considered the second-choice 12. Both the Wallabies and All Blacks will benefit if the Boks opt to play Jacobs in a position where he simply isn’t that strong.
By Jon Cardinelli