Eddie Jones says that Fourie du Preez is playing some of the best rugby of his career and would add terrific value to Heyneke Meyer’s Springbok team.
The Boks’ World Cup failure marked a gutting end for retirees such as Victor Matfield, while Danie Rossouw, Bakkies Botha and Du Preez departed New Zealand with the knowledge that their Test playing days were almost certainly done.
Du Preez may have signed with Suntory Sungoliath prior to the 2011 Super Rugby season, but his underwhelming performance at the World Cup may have convinced many, perhaps even the player himself, that he could no longer command a regular place in the starting Bok team.
But much has changed over the course of three months. Meyer, Du Preez’s long-time mentor at the Bulls, has been instated as the new Bok coach. Du Preez himself has been in commanding form for Suntory in the Japanese Top League, helping the team to a record of 12 wins in 13 matches as well as the No 1 seed for the play-offs.
Jones joined the Boks as a technical adviser before the 2007 World Cup and at the time raved about Du Preez’s unique talent. It came as no surprise when in early 2011 Du Preez confirmed that the overseas club he had signed for was Jones’s Suntory. It would present him with another chance to work alongside one of the game’s best tacticians.
Jones believes the move has been mutually beneficial, and said that Du Preez’s contributions to the club have been invaluable thus far. According to Jones, Du Preez has shown why he should continue at the highest level.
‘Fourie has done really well over here,’ said Jones. ‘The game is much quicker and he’s adapted beautifully. He’s going to be a key man for us now as we move into the play-offs.
‘I really believe he has more to give at international level. He’s only 29 and we could see him playing some of his best rugby over the next few years. He’s also in the best condition he’s been in for a long time, and I’ve noticed the difference that’s had on his performance.’
Meyer has made it clear that he will consider South Africans based abroad if those individuals add value to the Bok set-up. The idea of bringing Du Preez back to South Africa must be tempting for Meyer, who has enjoyed a long relationship with the player during the Bulls’ golden era of the mid-to-late 2000s.
Meyer will know what Du Preez can bring to the Boks, but ultimately Du Preez will need to decide if he has it in himself to commit for another stint as the Boks’ go-to man.
‘The only question I would have is: Does Fourie still have the desire to play international rugby?’ said Jones. ‘It’s something I know he will think deeply about over the next few months before he makes a decision. I for one believe that he could still make an impact in a starting capacity.
‘It also wouldn’t hurt to have him in some sort of mentoring role. He’s one of the sharpest players in the game, and any team that taps into that intelligence is going to benefit enormously. To have him looking after Francois [Hougaard] will have benefits for the Boks and obviously for Francois himself.’
While Hougaard has proved an exciting wing option for the Bulls and Boks, he’s long been earmarked to succeed Du Preez at both Super Rugby and Test level. Du Preez told this website as much last year, and gave Hougaard a vote of confidence. Perhaps the real question is whether 2012 is the year Hougaard accepts the Test baton, or continues to grow under Du Preez.
The final decision may rely with Du Preez himself. If he, as Jones suggests, still believes that he can add value to the Boks in the coming years, then he should continue as the starting option. If not, Hougaard and the Boks would undoubtedly benefit from having him as part of the new set-up.
By Jon Cardinelli