Heyneke Meyer’s selection of Fourie du Preez for the three home matches in this season’s Rugby Championship is a coup and a masterstroke.
It will also give both player and coach an opportunity to assess the player’s appetite for Test rugby and his appetite to commit to the 2015 World Cup in England.
Du Preez’s quality as a player should never be questioned. It doesn’t matter that he has played his rugby in the less demanding environment of Japan in the last 18 months. If anything that would have added to his international longevity.
Du Preez, in the context of the Springboks, has the same value as Dan Carter to the All Blacks. Du Preez has always been the team’s backline general and master tactician.
Du Preez, at scrumhalf, like Carter, at flyhalf, offers a unique value to the position. They set the standard.
In Du Preez’s Bok absence no scrumhalf has come close to making a similar impact. Francois Hougaard has promised great things but never delivered on the tutorship of Du Preez.
Ruan Pienaar, since playing for Ulster, is more dependable than dashing and Jano Vermaark and Piet van Zyl simply are not in Du Preez’s class.
Meyer has worked very hard with Du Preez’s Japanese club to get a release for the three Rugby Championship Tests in South Africa. The Bok coach has shown professionalism and a healthy respect for the realities of professional rugby to facilitate Du Preez’s participation, even if it is just for half the tournament.
Rugby, as a profession, will probably take another decade to settle. The administration of the game is still more shamateur than business-like and inept, apathetic and incompetent elected officials still operationally govern the game globally.
A player revolt would change that, but the players are still too steeped in amateur ethos and values.
This will change, if not before the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
In 10 years time it won’t matter where a player is based. If he is the best in his position he will be selected to play for his country.
For now there is still too much amateur tradition that clouds the judgement and influences public sentiment.
Many supporters still feel a player is turning his back on the national jersey when accepting lucrative offers to play overseas. I’ve never understood how supporters could feel aggrieved at a player maximizing his earning potential.
It’s not personal and it’s not unpatriotic.
It’s a bit like a Kaizer Chiefs player being accused of treason for accepting an offer to play for Manchester United.
The national cause should never be compromised because a player doesn’t base himself in South Africa.
And it’s pleasing to see Meyer being allowed to make informed selection choices. The South African Rugby Union, in this regard, is ahead of the New Zealand and Australian Rugby Union, in allowing the national coach to select whoever he believes to be the best, irrespective of whether they play their domestic rugby outside of South Africa.
The European club structure is as good as that on offer in the southern hemisphere and many of the European club have a healthy contingent of southern hemisphere players.
Meyer has always emphasized that on 50/50 selection calls he would favour the local based player. It’s a view that is logical, but he has also insisted that if the South African player based overseas offers more to the prospects of the Springboks winning, then he would select this player.
Francois Louw is the best example of a player who has improved since relocating to Bath. Louw was good when he left the Stormers. He is now very good as an international openside flank option.
Meyer recognized this, selected Louw and immediately saw the on-field value to the Boks.
There are players who have improved since moving overseas. If good enough, pick them for the Boks.
Meyer’s aim is for the Boks to be the best. To do so he must select who he considers to be the best, which is why the selection of a motivated Du Preez is a no brainer.
Meyer has invested in 10 foreign-based players and there are still a few more who could push for selection in the November internationals against France, Scotland and Wales.
Toulon and former Bulls strong man Bakkies Botha is just one example of a European-based player good enough to play Test rugby. Don’t be surprised to see him playing against France in Paris.
Japanese-based Jaque Fourie, in 2015, will also challenge for a place with the Boks.
Meyer has shown consistency in his selections and has been aggressive in developing international depth in his squad.
I’ll continue to disagree with him on his omission of Cheetahs flanker Heinrich Brussow, but there is little else to counter in his selections.