Killing Kanko

RYAN VREDE argues that Ryan Kankowski is guilty of letting himself down but appalling management and a patent lack of coaching are mitigating factors.

Just two years ago there was a raging debate about who of Pierre Spies or Ryan Kankowski should start at No 8 for the Springboks. Spies had one of his worst-ever Super Rugby campaigns, while Kankowski shone for the Sharks, prompting widespread calls for his inclusion.

However, Peter de Villiers banked on Spies but told the media that we were ‘blessed’ to have a talent like Kankowski in the wings. ‘There is no difference whether Spies or Kankowski plays,’ he added, ‘they’re equally good.’

Seventeen Test matches into his career and we’re still waiting for Kankowski to replicate his best Super Rugby form on the Test stage. Certainly he hasn’t strengthened his case for a run-on start in the limited opportunities he has received, but the cause of his mediocrity demands closer inspection.

Undoubtedly the Springboks’ pragmatic tactics don’t aid him and is the reason both he and Spies have struggled to assert themselves consistently at Test level. Nowhere was that more evident than against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.

The Springboks began promisingly, playing through phases and attacking the channels around the ruck fringe. Kankowski would often be deployed at third or fourth phase, where he had time and space to attack a depleted defensive line. By utilising him in this manner the Springboks were harnessing his primary strength and extracting the greatest value from him.

Then inexplicably they started to kick away possession. Compounding their problems was the poor execution of those kicks. Kankowski, along with the team’s other primary strike runners, was rendered a virtual spectator for the remainder of the Test.

Furthermore, De Villiers argues that he has invested in Kankowski, but that investment amounts to 609 minutes of a possible 1 360. That seems reasonable for a second-choice eighthman.

However, the picture becomes clearer when you consider that 122 of those minutes were spent at blindside flank, a position he freely concedes he is not suited to, 86 of those minutes were against lowly Italy and those 80 minutes were in the dead-rubber third Test against the British & Irish Lions in 2009. Tests against Wales and Scotland account for a further 215 minutes.

De Villiers’ estimation of the player was further questioned when he selected Joe van Niekerk ahead of him for the Test against Wales in June. Van Niekerk would not be selected again in 2010.

In fact this year Kankowski has suffered most from his coaches’ clear lack of vision and unwavering belief in an off-form Spies.

Barring the Scotland Test on Saturday, he’s started once, at blindside flank against Australia in Perth, and was woeful. Only twice has he played in two successive matches. When announcing his team to play England, De Villiers called Kankowski the Man of the Match against Scotland, but still omitted him from the match 22 for Twickenham.

It’s not just flawed and stifling tactics and a lack of game time that irks. It is also that Kankowski clearly hasn’t been schooled in the the nuances between Super Rugby and Test rugby. His running lines and positional play don’t differ, which is a poor reflection on the Springboks’ coaching staff.

Willem Alberts is De Villiers’ new plaything. When Heinrich Brüssow returns, Kankowski’s international career will stall. The treatment he has received is abominable. A player of his calibre deserves better.

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