Starting with Adi Jacobs will be a contradiction of Peter de Villiers’s selection policies as well as being the incorrect rugby decision.
With Jaque Fourie injured for large periods of last year, Adi Jacobs started the 2008 season as De Villiers’s first choice No 13. Many were skeptical of Jacobs’s ability to fill the void, but he performed admirably in the absence of Fourie and took his opportunity.
De Villiers justified his selection of Jacobs when Fourie returned for 2008′s year-end tour as well as for the start of the British & Irish Lions series due to the Sharks player being the incumbent. It was clear, Fourie would have to bide his time before he could call the jersey his own again.
Now the roles have been reversed. Jacobs was sent home from Bloemfontein last Monday due to a quad injury, but was yesterday declared fit for selection for this Saturday. If De Villiers maintains his selection policy of sticking with the player in ownership of the jersey, as he did with Jacobs during his good run of form, then Fourie must start again.
Now that Fourie is the incumbent, the same rules must apply to Jacobs: He has to fight his way back into the team. Jacobs’s form last year was a revelation, but recently his performances have began to wane, while Fourie’s have been on the up. The Lions’ midfield of Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll exposed Jacobs’s defensive frailties, while he lacks the physicality to be a consistent threat on attack or defence at the highest level.
The topic of whether Fourie is the ‘best outside centre in the world’ – as he proclaimed last week – is up for debate. What is not however, is whether he is the best No 13 in the country. His defensive organisational skills, his physical presence, combined with his white hot try-scoring streak cannot be ignored.
Starting with last year’s fixture against Scotland in November where he scored the match-winning try, Fourie has since crossed against England, the Lions in the second series-winning Test, as well as on Saturday against the All Blacks - making it four out of his last six Tests (three of them were match-defining efforts).
Jacobs was set to start the Bloemfontein encounter ahead of Jean de Villiers at inside centre until injury ruled him out. Again, the same scenario applies, while De Villiers should start to keep match-winning combinations from the opening Tri-Nations opener in tow.
The Fourie and De Villiers partnership is recognised worldwide, while including Jacobs ahead of either of the pair would do little to strike fear into the hearts of Ma’a Nonu or Conrad Smith. Another factor to consider why Jacobs should not start is that his last bit of game-time came during the second Lions Test on 27 June, five weeks prior to this Saturday’s encounter.
De Villiers, 2008′s SA Rugby Player of the Year as well as the Players’ Player of the Year, is simply a better No 12 than Jacobs – a position unfamiliar to the Shark.
If Jacobs is rushed straight back into the side, it will show gross double standards on coach De Villiers’s part.
By Grant Ball, in Durban