2011………..Are the Boks ready for the Rugby World Cup title defense?
Being an arm chair selector has in advantages. The Springbok team that you select will probably never end up playing together and you never have to justify yourself like Pieter De Villiers.
Selecting my team to play the British Lions got me thinking about 2011. All the talk right now is about the British Lions tour and rightly so. This is only their third visit to the shores of South Africa in the past 29 years with the other tours being in 1980 (won by the Springboks) and 1997 (won by the Lions).
Nobody can really think past 2010 Soccer World Cup and it is an honour for South Africa to be the host nation. But rugby people seem to be forgetting that 2009 marks the half way mark in the reign of the Springboks, the current rugby World Champions.
In 1997, the last time the Springboks faced the British Lions, we were also two years off the 95 World Cup victory and South African rugby was in disarray. Kitch Christie, the world cup winning coach was gone, as was his successor Andre Markgraaf. Carel Du Plessis, who coached the Boks during the last Lions series, also got the boot before the 99 Rugby World Cup.
Are the Springboks that well prepared this time round, in their second defense of their crown? We felt let down by Nick Mallet in 1999 when the Boks last tried to defend their title and the question has to be asked whether history will repeat itself. Part of the problem at the 1999 World Cup was the issue of captaincy.
After Gary Teichman was dropped as skipper of the Boks, an uneasy vibe developed in a highly successful team. Players started feeling that if the skipper could be dropped, then everyone else was vulnerable as well.
By 2005 Jake White had a fair idea of who was going to be in his squad for the 07 World Cup and his faith was in John Smit as skipper. Victor Matfield, Os du Rand, Schalk Burger, Juan Smith, Fourie Du Preez and Percy Montgomery were all seasoned campaigners by the time Jake got his team to France.
Will John Smit be our captain in 2011? If he isn’t, then I suggest that we are already in trouble come crunch time in New Zealand.
There is little doubt that, barring injury or an alarming loss of form, Richie McCaw will be leading the All Blacks in a World Cup they will be desperate to win on home soil.
Smit’s position in the team may even be in doubt in 2009, let alone in two years time. He is already being played out of position and is not the world’s best tight head prop, although it must be said he has not done a bad job either.
Looking past Smit, who could possibly be the skipper for the Boks in 2011? Victor Matfield has been the stand in skipper when Smit has not been around but seems to play better for the Boks when he can just concentrate on his own game. He is also being pushed by a hungry Andries Bekker who may sense that he could force himself into the Boks starting line up over the next 2 seasons.
Jean De Villiers is a great player but has been injury prone over the years. The focus will be on whether De Villiers can last until 2011 and it will be a bonus for the Boks if he does. Building a team around De Villiers as captain would be a mistake however.
The Lions and the Sharks are both captained by players who are not part of the Bok set up. Cobus Grobbelaar and Johan Muller will probably not be part of the plans during the next three seasons and can probably be discounted.
That leaves Juan Smith, the tough as nails flanker from the Cheetahs, who is playing some fine rugby in the Super 14 as a possible Rugby World Cup 2011 captain. Smith will be turning 30 in 2011 and will be at the peak of his powers. Duane Vermeulen will also be knocking at the door and Smith will not have it all his own way.
However, should he be selected as captain, then he must be backed by the coach, with Vermeulen being selected as part of the squad, based on his form in 2011.
One cannot write off John Smith either. He will be 33 at the next World Cup and could be aiming to make 2011 his swansong. Either way, the calls need to made now and the decisions backed by all the role players. The Boks have a title to defend.