Peter de Villiers says there is more to consider than form when assessing whether John Smit or Bismarck du Plessis should start.
De Villiers has vehemently defended Smit in recent months in the face of criticism for his persistence with him, despite Bismarck du Plessis’ excellence as an impact player and as a starter against the All Blacks in Port Elizabeth last month. In Sunday’s World Cup pool opener against Wales Du Plessis again delivered a cameo of the highest order, forcing two crucial turnovers and defending and carrying powerfully.
Some consider the debate around this issue closed, given De Villiers’ unwavering faith in Smit. Indeed he called him ‘the best hooker in the world’ at his arrival media briefing to further underline his estimation of him. However, Du Plessis’ patent and influential impact at the Cake Tin has once again elicited widespread calls for his inclusion in the run-on side ahead of the Springbok captain.
De Villiers though reaffirmed his commitment to Smit, explaining it by saying: ‘Luckily I’m the coach,’ implying a disregard for popular opinion. ‘For me its not as black and white as some people would believe.’
‘There’s more to team selection. If every player understands his role, that’s the important thing. If you look at how comfortable Wales were against our starting line-up it was important that we had something up our sleeve on the bench.
‘We [also] look at the cohesion of the team and what every player can bring. There are definitely some attributes Bismarck has that John doesn’t have. We’ll look at what we want to achieve in any given match and make selection decisions accordingly.’
From De Villiers’ offerings on this matter one can safely assume that he will continue to back Smit for the Springboks’ most important matches, injury notwithstanding. Du Plessis may well start against Fiji or Namibia, but is highly unlikely to break into the run-on side for the crunch Test against Samoa in three weeks, or indeed in a quarter-final, which will most likely be against Ireland.
In fact it is unlikely that any of the reserves who were injected into the contest to such good effect in Wellington have advanced their cause enough to convince De Villiers of promotion. Francois Hougaard, on as a late replacement for the industrious but impotent Bryan Habana, scored a decisive try and contributed superbly in general play.
Probed for his thoughts on Habana, who De Villiers confirmed wasn’t an injury-enforced substitution, the coach said: ‘Habana is world class. There may be some [selection] decisions that people don’t agree with. Francois did well when he came on. We wanted to up the tempo [by introducing him] and he did very well.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Wellington.
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