Peter de Villiers says Gio Aplon has had his opportunity to build a case for himself and slammed criticism of his team’s struggles to score tries.
Aplon, renowned for his game breaking ability, was omitted from the match 22 once more for Saturday’s Test against Fiji in Wellington, with De Villiers favouring Pat Lambie at fullback.
Explaining this decision, the Springbok coach said: ‘We assessed a range of options in accordance with what we wanted to achieve. All 30 we have here are capable of playing in a final if they must. But if you are deciding how you want to play in a final, how will you know [whether Lambie or Aplon is the best option]?
‘Gio has had all the opportunities. I know where I stand on him, I know what he can offer us. I’m not as certain about Lambie. I don’t really know what he can offer us. The one opportunity that I wanted to give him, circumstances forced us to substitute him [he injured his shoulder against the All Blacks in Port Elizabeth].
‘We know that a guy like JP Pietersen can give us an alternative as a fullback, particularly with his counter-attacking ability. His kicking game isn’t the best but if we want to play a running game he could be valuable. Gio is the same. But if we are in the same situation, with Jean de Villiers injured [and Frans Steyn playing inside centre], how will we know who our best fullback is if we don’t give Patrick the opportunity now?’
De Villiers continued, explaining that he was purposeful about the type of players he selects to replace any incumbents who may be injured. Those players, he suggested, must suit the game plan and not have the game plan tailored around their strengths.
He also added that criticism of their attacking impotency failed to take into account the advancement of defensive systems and the pressure the kick-chase method, if executed properly, can exert.
‘Everybody says you must have a plan B and a plan C. I don’t believe in that kind of nonsense. We’ve got one plan and we have to execute that plan properly. Within that plan you can have flexibility in terms of assessing the situation,’ he said.
‘Also, everybody bangs on about us not scoring tries. But look at the final of the New Zealand Cup, they didn’t score a try. If they couldn’t score a try in that final, how much more unlikely is it that against the World’s best defensive sides try scoring will be even more difficult.
‘Defence has become an art. So if we can get the right brand that will force teams into mistakes and get our mighty boot [Morne Steyn] to nail them, it will be the right way to go. With Morne in the side we force teams to kick more, because they won’t want us to play in their territory [for fear of conceding kickable penalties], and the more they kick the more we can dictate the game. Frans Steyn is the same. So you put more pressure on your opponents to execute the things they want to do as best as they can.’
There has been plenty of debate about which selection policy will prosper at the World Cup. Among the favourites, the Springboks (injuries notwithstanding) and Australia prefer to not make unnecessary changes, while New Zealand have continued to rotate their side regularly. De Villiers maintained that there was more to be gained from continuity in selection, and thus would field his strongest available side against Namibia in Auckland next week.
‘I don’t think we should rotate. We should use the opportunity to sharpen the guys. We’ve had eight weeks of non-rugby, then two weeks of rugby then three weeks of rugby. Now we’ve had a lot of injuries. We must do the right thing and that is to play every game as a World Cup final and to build combinations,’ he said.
By Ryan Vrede, in Wellington
Follow Ryan’s World Cup coverage on Twitter.