Pierre Spies believes his form is good enough to put him in contention for a starting place with the Springboks but stressed that he expects no favouritism from his mentor and national coach Heyneke Meyer.
Meyer has worked with Spies from his school days and was instrumental in converting him from a wing to a No 8, a move Meyer promised would see him become a Springbok. Less than a year after the switch Meyer’s promise became reality and Spies has felt indebted to him since, while Meyer has always followed his progress as a Test player closely.
Meyer stressed at his first press conference that form would be his primary criterion for selection and Spies feels he fits the bill in this regard.
And while Spies’s Super Rugby form has been good, he certainly hasn’t scaled the heights he did in the Bulls’ championship winning seasons of 2009 and 2010, where he was among the pre-eminent players in his position in world rugby.
This website understands that Meyer has some concerns around Spies’s game at present and indeed was leaning towards selecting the Stormers’ Duane Vermuelen ahead of him for the June Test series against England. However, with Vermuelen ruled out until at least July with a knee injury, and with no players advancing their cause, Meyer is unlikely to look beyond Spies (although he admires elements of Ryan Kankowski’s game).
Spies, though, has no serious concerns about the standard of his performances.
‘I feel I’ve gone pretty well, my form is good,’ Spies told keo.co.za. ‘I haven’t been as prominent as I hoped I’d be with ball in hand and there’s many reasons for that. For example in the last two matches I’ve carried seven and five times respectively. So I understand when people question my form. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. It’s up to me to get more involved, but generally I thought I’ve done well, especially considering the added weight of responsibility as captain.’
Spies’ lack of punch at the gainline relative to his impressive physical constitution has been one of the primary criticisms of him. It’s an area he believes he has improved markedly.
‘I’ve focused on that facet of my game. I know I should be dominating more contact situations, it’s a quality shared by the world’s best No. 8s, and if I want to consider myself in that group I will have to continue to improve.’
Asked how he sees himself placed in relation to other South African No 8s and his prospects for the Test season, Spies said: ‘I’d like to think I’m right up there. If you want to be considered for Bok selection you have to be playing consistently well.
‘Heyneke and I do go back a long way but that won’t have any impact on my selection. He has too much integrity to do me a selection favour,’ Spies said. ‘Honesty has always been important in our relationship and if he felt I wasn’t up to scratch he’d tell me straight and have a list of things for me to do to get back to the top.’
Spies did, however, say that he felt Meyer was the one coach capable of rousing him to an elevated level of performance. ‘With no disrespect intended to my current or previous coaches, Heyneke’s the best motivator of all,’ he said. ‘He knows just how to get the very best out of his players, especially me, given that he has worked with me from the time I was a teenager. He knows what buttons to press.
‘That’s why I was pleased when he got the Bok job because I knew he would help take my Test game to a new level. I’m looking forward to that. I believe he can make me the best player in my position in the game.’
By Ryan Vrede