Substance needed from Spies
16 Aug 2011
RYAN VREDE writes that Pierre Spies owes it to himself and the Springboks to realise his immense potential.
Forty one caps into his Test career and Spies is yet to dispel lingering doubts about his aptitude. His inconsistency has undermined his cause most, with glimpses of the player he could be routinely interjected by infuriating mediocrity.
That player was again on show at Kings Park against the Wallabies on Saturday evening. Spies was superb until a collective and stark decrease in potency, ushered in by a lack of match conditioning, diluted his threat. He carried powerfully in general play and was explosive off the back of a strong scrum (prior to Jannie du Plessis’ replacement). His physicality at the collisions on attack and, usually, defence, was immense, the former driving him through the hit and generating attacking momentum for his side, while the latter played a central role in the Springboks’ defensive solidity (for the bulk of the contest).
Yet a poor impostor has consistently reported for Springboks duty. There remains deep rooted concerns about his inability to impose himself in tight games on attack. Defensively he lacks any discernible mongrel, trademark characteristics of Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts, the two candidates most often offered as alternatives. This despite being physically superior to both. This suggests a flaw in technique and mentality, two crucial components of a dominant defender.
Yet Springboks coach Peter de Villiers remains a believer, and he is not alone, my sense being that a large portion of the South African rugby fraternity habour hopes that the player they believe has the capacity to be a match winner will surface with some sort of consistency.
Forty Tests is more than enough time to make an absolute judgement on a player, but Spies has undoubtedly benefited from cameos which have kept faith from fading. He reminds me of mercurial South African cricketer Herschelle Gibbs, who would endure a torrid run on form, but, with the axe looming, would produce an innings of such class, such impossible brilliance, that the memory of his preceding mediocrity was swiftly erased.
A fine and dynamic player, consistently eluded Gibbs, and in this regard Spies is the Springboks’ incarnation of him. A stern decision was taken on the Gibbs at the end of his career. Selectors grew tired of the increasing rarity of the manifestation of Gibbs’ supreme talent. Spies needs to string together a series dominant performances or face a similar fate. We cannot continue to gorge ourselves on hope. We need some meat on the bone. Spies must show himself to be a player of substance.