Meyer last hope for Spies’s rejuvenation
7 May 2012
RYAN VREDE writes that the mentorship of Heyneke Meyer will be crucial if Pierre Spies is to realise his potential as a Test No 8.
Spies will start for the Springboks against England, not because his Super Rugby form warrants it (this was the criterion Meyer said would be foremost when selections were made) but because of a lack of competition.
Meyer rates the Stormers’ Duane Vermuelen highly and sees him as Spies’ primary competition. However, a knee injury has ruled Vermuelen out of action until the resumption of Super Rugby in June. Sharks incumbent Keegan Daniel is thought to have physical and technical limitations that would preclude him from selection while the Cheetahs’ Philip van der Walt and Lions’ Josh Strauss aren’t on the radar at present.
The option of shifting a flanker adept at playing in the position will be considered but at present Spies has the inside lane because Meyer believes he has the aptitude to dominate Test rugby and he knows Meyer’s playing structures well given that they will replicate those Spies has played in for years at the Bulls.
Spies’ best form has been displayed under the tutelage of Meyer, who converted him from a wing to eighthman in 2005, assuring him that he had a better chance of being a Springbok if he made the shift. Spies was duly capped at Test level a year later, then was outstanding in the Bulls’ title-winning 2007 Super 12 campaign.
But his form has drifted between very good (the 2009 and 2010 Super Rugby campaigns being prime examples) and ordinary since. He hasn’t progressed as expected as an international player. A strong argument can be made that he has stagnated, if not regressed.
The world’s elite eights possess a degree of mongrel Spies lacks or hasn’t exhibited. Forty-seven Tests into his international career you have to believe it is the former. The frustration with Spies is that his impressive physical constitution is not supported by a mental constitution of the ilk that the All Blacks’ Kieran Read – the pre-eminent player in his position in the game – possesses. I’ve written this previously and still have no reason to change my view.
Meyer doesn’t share this view. He has consistently extolled Spies’s virtues, among those being mental strength that ensures he won’t fold or become anonymous under pressure and a fearlessness that makes him indispensable to the team’s cause.
One of his biggest tasks as Springboks coach will be to draw out those qualities in Spies and ensure that consistent excellence marks the remainder of his Test career, not just the sporadic flashes of brilliance we’ve become accustomed to.