MARK KEOHANE writes Peter de Villiers’s selection of 51 players for World Cup planning sessions is a poor public relations exercise and a costly time waste for players whose World Cup selection should be determined by their ability to perform in Super Rugby.
Very few take Peter de Villiers seriously as it is, but I am astounded at how easily the media have been lulled into thinking there is any value in him naming a player base of 51 (excluding northern hemisphere based players) in the middle of the Super 15.
Only 30 players will go to the World Cup and last year De Villiers told the world that if a player wasn’t in the equation by the November internationals there was little chance of him making the World Cup squad. So what has changed?
De Villiers in naming three players who haven’t played for South Africa, says he is rewarding Super 15 form, but then he picks 30-plus players who are fortunate to be making their Super Rugby franchises at the moment.
What exactly is De Villiers going to do with these players in the next few months? Is he going to have the odd Monday session, at huge travel expense, to tell them what his expectation of a player is for the World Cup?
The entire thing (the naming of a World Cup planning squad in excess of 50 players) is so out of place in the context of the season. The World Cup is played three weeks after the completion of the Tri Nations. There can’t be a better preparation for South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
It is during the Tri Nations that the finishing touches of the last four years should be applied to the Boks. The World Cup is another tournament and the preparation should be similar to how the Boks would prepare for the challenge of the Tri Nations. It is a tournament in which a team aims to peak in the play-offs. It doesn’t need a four year preparation.
What the South African rugby public should find particularly disturbing is that De Villiers, four years into his tenure, has named Rassie Erasmus to do an ambulance job as his technical adviser; that he tried to get Eddie Jones in as well; that he is still trying to get rid of Gary Gold and Dick Muir and that he now wants the services of the 2007 Bok conditioning coach Derick Coetzee.
I am surprised he hasn’t tried to lure Joel Stransky out of retirement to kick some drop goals.
De Villiers committed to the core of the 2007 winning World Cup squad to successfully defend the World Cup. Whether we agree with it or not that is the reality of the Springboks in 2011. John Smit was promised the captaincy and he will go to the World Cup as Bok captain, even if there are games in which Bismarck du Plessis starts at hooker and Victor Matfield takes over the captaincy.
The decision to invest in the 2007 winners always came at a risk that the tournament was a year past the peak of many of these players. De Villiers believes they have one big tournament left and that is the World Cup. I, like many, believe it is a tournament too far for some of the best players ever produced in this country.
De Villiers has given too much comfort to too many players out of form and not enough reward to potential bolters. Of the three uncapped national players in his extended squad the only realistic World Cup option is Duane Vermeulen but already De Villiers, in attempting to boost the player, has only confirmed how far down he rates him in the pecking order. It will take injury to several players for Vermeulen to get an international Bok cap. Vermeulen would be better off going overseas to Munster, serving his three years and then making the Irish team.
Sarel Pretorius is also not going to make the World Cup squad ahead of Fourie du Preez, Rickey Januarie and Francois Hougaard. So don’t get too excited with that selection.
Don’t get excited about any of the names. Rather get a bit depressed about the continued investment in so many players off form. The same names are there that for the last two years have done nothing to inspire confidence in the national set up.
The speculation that Smit is also playing for his international future is ill-informed. De Villiers has said he will only pick him at hooker, which doesn’t mean if he isn’t playing hooker for the Sharks he won’t be selected.
Smit, Matfield and Du Preez have controlled the Bok squad for the last four years and De Villiers knows he can’t change the situation now, even if he wanted to, and he doesn’t want to.
The World Cup squad, to be named in a few months, will be consistent with the squads De Villiers has selected over the last few years. Smit will be in charge, so will Matfield and Du Preez will be as influential.
There will be no uncapped player in the World Cup squad and it will be De Villiers’s belief in the longevity of players who were once brilliant that will be tested against father time.