Pick the player; then the captain
27 Jan 2012
MARK KEOHANE writes the next Springbok captain must be a certainty in the starting XV. No player should be picked because of his captaincy credentials.
John Smit and Victor Matfield rode the rugby gravy train in 2011 because of the incompetence of then Bok coach Peter de Villiers, who lacked leadership and the tactical acumen to manage and coach a team at the highest level. He relied too heavily on senior players past their prime and justified their continued selection based on experience, but their form in 2010 and 2011 was never good enough.
Heyneke Meyer, to be named Bok coach on Friday, does not suffer in the areas that so handicapped De Villiers.
Meyer’s focus will be to select the best available squad to play England.
And from that squad will come the captain.
No player should make the starting XV based on his ability to lead a side. South Africa is blessed with enough playing talent and enough leaders not to have to repeat the embarrassing situation of the 2011 World Cup when the captain was not good enough to make the run-on XV.
Whoever captains the Boks should not have his pedigree questioned. There are options and they include Stormers flank Schalk Burger, Sharks hooker Bismarck du Plessis and Cheetahs flank Juan Smith. Andries Bekker and Jean de Villiers are also very good leaders. Luke Watson, once the Kings play in the 2013 Super Rugby competition, is also a contender.
Bulls No 8 Pierre Spies is an unknown as a captain and the Lions and Sharks captaincy duo of Josh Strauss and Keegan Daniel are not good enough to make the Boks’ starting XV.
There can be no excuse that there is a lack of leadership among players in South African rugby. The notion that someone like Victor Matfield has to come out of retirement for Meyer’s first season in charge to remedy the lack of playing leadership has to be rejected. It is a load of bull.
Matfield would no longer be good enough to command a starting place. His best days were between 2007 and 2009 when he had no comparison as a lineout specialist and an international lock, but his form in 2010 and 2011 was sub-standard and those thinking he performed well at the 2011 World Cup need to revisit his performances in the 2007 World Cup.
Matfield’s legacy is that he dominated the international game for five years. He is no longer that force. That he should even contemplate a return based on Meyer’s appointment is ridiculous. It smacks of arrogance. Matfield’s role, if any, should be as a lineout consultant and he can double up as a SuperSport analyst. His rugby knowledge is without dispute. His retirement should also not be disputed. There is a time to go in international sport – and Matfield’s was 24 months ago.
Burger has to be the favourite to captain the side, but it should also not be a given that the Bok captain has to be the captain of his provincial or regional team. Zinzan Brooke, as one example, captained the Blues and Sean Fitzaptrick, also in the Blues team, the All Blacks.
Leadership is a shared responsibility in Test rugby and any team whose coach relies so heavily on one player to be the captain is already vulnerable.
Smit’s leadership was always presented as the reason for his selection at the 2011 World Cup but in the final 20 minutes against Wales, when the Boks trailed, he was substituted. Ditto the quarter-final against Australia.
The best players have to make the starting XV. From that comes the captain.
South Africans need to learn from the history of the 2011 World Cup and demand the best start. The captain has to be secondary to the team. There can’t be any guarantees to any player, including whoever captains the side. Too much is made of who captains the side.
Meyer, whose skill has always been to build a team, has so much talent at his disposal that his eyes have to be on the now and not the past. Matfield, as a player, is very much the past. Matfield, in another guise, can be the future.
The same applies to Fourie du Preez and any other Bulls legend who feels he may be doing Meyer a favour by coming out of retirement. Who next, Frik du Preez?