Montgomery targets perfect century

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Amid a floodtide of likely emotion over Percy Montgomery’s selection as the first ever Springbok to earn 100 caps, coach Peter de Villiers has made the only call possible at half back for this Saturday’s Tri-Nations Test against New Zealand. He recalled Fourie du Preez.

To have gone into so crucial a Test without the man Graham Henry has dubbed “the world’s No. 1 half-back” would have been folly in the extreme. Du Preez played such a fulsome role in Saturday’s thrashing of the hapless Argentinians that he simply had to play.

De Villiers started explaining away Ricky Januarie’s exclusion by saying there were a few reasons for it but then adding abruptly “Most…of them…we won’t discuss in here. I just think it’s the right thing to do for this game.”

But de Villiers later added “Ricky has played a lot of rugby. His legs were getting heavier and heavier and it’s the right time now to make a change.”

It’s always the right time to choose the best half back in world rugby when New Zealand is in town. The Springbok coach said he hoped he’d make New Zealand wonder why the ‘Boks had gone back to Du Preez at the expense of the man who won them the Dunedin Test. But I don’t think Graham Henry, who has announced an unchanged side from the one that beat Australia 39-10 in Auckland in their last Tri-Nations outing, will have been the least bit surprised to see Du Preez chosen.

“He is a great player, real quality and the best half back in the world” Henry said at his team’s Cape Town hotel.

Montgomery’s 100th cap (he replaces Conrad Jantjes who is on the bench) is a wonderful achievement by a fine man but his coach warned about allowing the emotion of the occasion, particularly as he will reach the landmark at Newlands, to overtake the main focus.

“He knows the job is more important than the milestone. But this is as huge as Madiba’s 90th, only 10 more! I have been coaching him since 1979 (much laughter)…1997… and the player he is plus the experience he brings to the side are what make him so extraordinary. He is prepared to share all his knowledge to everyone in the side and even if he is not playing, he is the same person, the same character.”

De Villiers said he wasn’t yet sure who would be first choice goalkicker, Montgomery or Butch James.

Montgomery said “I don’t want to talk too much about it. Our focus must be on a big three weeks ahead of us. I am pretty relaxed about it but it’s about what goals you want to set.”

And skipper Victor Matfield added “This is more about South Africa beating the All Blacks than about all these guys getting these milestones.”

In another milestone, flanker Juan Smith will win his 50th cap and, as expected, Andries Bekker takes over from the injured Bakkies Botha, with Danie Rossouw added to the bench. Frans Steyn also returns, albeit as a replacement.

But for the debate about BJ Botha’s superior scrimmaging technique at tight head prop, this is probably as strong a Springbok side as it was possible to choose, although John Smit’s leadership qualities will again be a loss at hooker.


P. Montgomery; JP Pietersen, A. Jacobs, J. de Villiers, B. Habana; B. James, F. du Preez; T. Mtawarira, B. du Plessis, CJ van der Linde, A. Bekker, V. Matfield, S. Burger, J. Smith, P. Spies.

Subs: A. Strauss, B. Mujati, D. Rossouw, L. Watson, E. Januarie, F. Steyn, C. Jantjes.