Cut Pierre Spies some slack. He deserves to be starting at No 8 for the Boks.
Duane Vermeleun is injured. He would have started at No 8 had he been fit. He was the incumbent in last year’s November internationals.
Spies was injured during the November internationals and now, in Vermeleun’s absence, he is the best available. He was as good as the Boks were against Italy, which was pretty decent.
His defensive contribution was massive. He was consistently strong in the tackle and industrious. He put in the hard yards, especially in those first 20 minutes after halftime when the Boks had six percent field position and Italy had more than 80 percent sustained possession.
The Boks had to tackle and tackle – and Spies was at the forefront of that effort.
Spies gets the same treatment that Bob Skinstad got when he played for the Boks. No matter what Skinstad did those up north would tell you what he couldn’t do. Even when Skinstad was at his explosive best the counter argument was that he didn’t scrum, that he didn’t hit rucks and that his tackle count was too low.
Now those in the south will tell you that Spies doesn’t hit rucks, that he doesn’t scrum and that his tackle count could be higher.
Spies is not liked by a certain sector of the rugby public, just like Skinstad was not liked.
Give the bloke a break. He has played well this season. He has led the Bulls to the top of the South African conference and he has been influential in many games. He is the form No 8 in South Africa.
He isn’t superman and he isn’t Sonny Bill Williams. No one is, and I think the expectation of Spies is unrealistic. He remains a fine rugby player, but he never is going to hit the rucks like Arno Botha or a closed side flanker who brings mongrel to a pack.
Spies offers other qualities and he shown these qualities consistently in more than 100 Super Rugby games and 51 Tests. Go ask the opposition what they think of Spies? There is a healthy respect for his talents, as there was for Skinstad in his prime.
Similarly Morne Steyn.
He is playing the best rugby of his career and he is definitely more than just a kicker. Go and analyse his games. Ask why the Bulls have scored more tries than any South African team in Super Rugby. He is playing flatter on attack, which isn’t his natural game, but he is being effective.
He is under appreciated in this country. Pat Lambie was adequate in the November internationals, without being outstanding. He was no better on attack than Steyn had been, but because there is this willingness for Lambie to succeed so much of his laboured play is overlooked.
Lambie is a fine rugby player but he hasn’t been overly impressive at flyhalf for the Sharks and he wasn’t dynamic for the Boks. He has been better when played at fullback.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer initially rated him only as a fullback. He then softened prior to last year’s November internationals, especially when Steyn was suffering from fatigue and was in desperate need of a break.
There is room for Steyn and Lambie in a very good Bok squad and there is also room for Spies and Vermeulen in the best Bok squad.
There should be a greater appreciation for what Spies and Steyn can do instead of constant attacks on what they are perceived not to be doing.
You don’t score 31 points in a Test against the All Blacks if you haven’t got a certain quality and you don’t play 100-plus Super Rugby games for the Bulls and 51 Tests for the Boks if you haven’t got something special.
I have been critical of both players at stages of their career when their form has wavered and I have promoted the virtues of players offering more (in my view) to the national set up. I was very much in favour of Johan Goosen’s selection ahead of Steyn and Vermeulen’s national call-up.
But Steyn and Spies have both responded to the challenge in 2013. Both have been excellent for the Bulls and both were influential against Italy and will be for the Boks as the international season unfolds.
A failure to recognise this would be nothing more than bias and ignorance.