De Jongh’s small problem

RYAN VREDE, in Edinburgh, writes because of his size Juan de Jongh has to be exceptional to force Heyneke Meyer to consider him as a real solution to his outside centre problem.

I wrote at the start of Meyer’s tenure that he is a disciple of size and strength, firm in his belief that a player must have this attribute to be successful in Test rugby.

At the time I cited De Jongh among the players who would struggle to push for a regular starting berth, with Meyer appreciative of his attacking capacity in Super Rugby, but unconvinced that he could replicate his hot-stepping in reduced space and time and consistently dominate the tackle fight on attack and defence in Tests.

De Jongh has, however, got an opportunity to alter his coach’s fairly rigid view, and bid to convince him that he can fill a void Meyer is concerned about going forward. His problem is that he’ll get one shot. As it stands Jaco Taute will be reinstated for the final Test of the tour against England at Twickenham. That is unless De Jongh produces something special against Scotland.

There has been no shortage of suggestions and, at times, accusations that Meyer is a racist for what is perceived to be the sidelining of black players. I’ve worked professionally with him for years, and have never got that impression. That he has a prejudice against smaller players of average ability (in a Test context) is undoubted. De Jongh is one such player. He is capable of feats of brilliance (his try in the Currie Cup final an example) but has not replicated these feats often enough to be considered a must for the Springboks.

In his favour is that he is 24 years old and still has time to grow. Also, Meyer has shown a willingness to have some of his views challenged. By way of example, Ruan Pienaar and Francois Louw have, on the strength of their performances and maturity they’ve exhibited, paved the way for a steadily increasing number of overseas-based players to be involved with the Springboks. Meyer had previously been adamant that he would select his squads from players based in South Africa, unless his hand was forced through injury.

Similarly De Jongh can advance the cause of the smaller backs. He refused to make soaring statements about size, but came across as confident in his ability.

‘I know where I’ve stood with Heyneke from the start. I know what attributes he is looking for from me, but I also know what I need for my game,’ De Jongh said. ‘Everyone has their opinion [on size] but I have an opportunity this weekend to prove people who think I’m too small wrong.’