Rugby Union: Springboks play Montgomery as their wild card

Chris Hewett meets the new cap relishing the challenge of playing out of position against Guscott and Gibbs

Carel du Plessis may come across as a gentle, peaceful soul with a Trappist line in conversation, but few Springbok coaches of recent vintage have been more prepared to stand up and be counted on the selection front. A mere month after giving Kobus Wiese and Hennie le Roux their P45s, Du Plessis has sailed brazenly into even deeper waters by giving Percy Montgomery a first cap against the Lions in Durban this afternoon.

For every supporter who considers the 23-year-old utility back from Western Province to be the best thing since sliced bread, there is an opponent who sees him as a potential liability. Given that he is making his Test bow in a match of almost unimaginable importance to the Springbok rugby psyche, Du Plessis must be hoping the pro-Montgomery faction are on the ball in their judgement.

For all the public debate, there is no real doubt over Montgomery's ability. Quick enough to play Currie Cup rugby on the wing, secure enough to earn a crust as a leading provincial full-back and organised enough to have impressed, if only in flashes, as an outside-half when Western Province took the Lions all the way in Cape Town three weeks ago, he boasts the full range of rugby gifts. Today, he plays opposite Jeremy Guscott at outside centre and will almost certainly start as the Springboks goal- kicker into the bargain.

"Everyone asks me my favourite position and the truth is that I would like to return to full-back at some stage," he said yesterday. "That being said, I'm enjoying my experience as a centre and I'm completely confident of fitting in quickly with the rest of the Springbok backs. The squad are very supportive of each other - if something goes wrong, everyone is in it together - and while all this is new to me in a match sense, I've been in camp for most of the last month and feel part of the scene."

Question marks over Montgomery's defensive attributes will only be erased if and when he survives his first big hit from Scott Gibbs. "I was criticised early in my career for being too lightweight," he admitted, "but I've worked hard in the gym, eaten the right foods and filled out a hell of a lot over the last few months.

"Although I respect Gibbs and Guscott as a dangerous combination, I feel perfectly equipped to cope." Bold words from a bold new talent.

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