Peter Bills: Can de Villiers turn the Springboks around?

Talking Rugby
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The Independent Online

Coach Peter de Villiers led his beaten, humbled players home from their disastrous Australasian Tri-Nations tour, defeats by 39-20 against Australia and 40-7 against New Zealand in Wellington on Saturday having shattered the myth of Springbok rugby invincibility.

And no sooner had de Villiers stepped off the plane from Australia at Johannesburg airport than the questions began.

Chief among them were the following:

· How many of this touring squad will be considered for places in the squad when Australia come to Durban on Saturday week for the first of the ‘Boks two home Tri-Nations games?

· Will almost all the 21 players said to have been in a training camp at Rustenburg with Rassie Erasmus be fit for selection against the Wallabies?

· What role will captain John Smit have against the Wallabies and All Blacks in the two home Tri-Nations games?

· Will Bismarck du Plessis inevitably start those games as first choice hooker?

· Did anyone do enough on the Tri-Nations tour to impress de Villiers and keep his place in the squad?

· What is morale like after two such massive defeats?

· Have the Springboks handed their arch southern hemisphere opponents a golden psychological advantage so close to the 2011 Rugby World Cup?

· Has de Villiers changed his mind in any way regarding the likely make-up of his World Cup squad? For example, did Sharks’ Patrick Lambie perform well enough in Wellington to move him up the pecking order for the World Cup squad?

De Villiers has to answer these and many more questions before the Springboks go out to face the Australians in Durban on Saturday week. He has many issues to ponder with some massive decisions to be made.

There is no doubt that the return of senior players like Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, Pierre Spies, Schalk Burger, Willem Alberts, Fourie du Preez, Butch James, Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie, Bryan Habana, J.P. Pietersen and Frans Steyn will transform the South Africans.

That group alone of 14 players represents almost an entire team. They would have to give the Australians a tougher test than the weakened Springboks managed in Sydney just over a week ago.

But we know what those players can do, how they will play. What is intriguing is whether the Springbok coach saw enough from the likes of Patrick Lambie, Juan de Jongh and Lwazi Mvovo to fast track them into the best possible South African side.

All three showed glimpses of what they are capable of and probably merited another chance, especially alongside far more powerful players like the forwards Matfield, Botha and Burger plus half-backs du Preez and James.

Bu will de Villiers risk any of his Australasian squad? Or will he condemn the whole lot as failures and go back to the tried and trusted senior guys?

There is no doubt that the Springboks are now in desperate need of a morale boosting win over either the Wallabies or All Blacks (or preferably both) before they set off to defend the Webb Ellis trophy in New Zealand at the end of this month.

Defeats in both games would be unthinkable. The ensuing criticism of the Springbok coach and his assistants would be horrendous.

But the Springboks are firmly on the back foot. They are under heavy criticism after two poor performances and struggling with the pressure.

Can the ‘Boks, both their management and players, turn it around inside just 12 days? It is surely asking a lot.

But the Wallabies will be weary when they finally reach Durban and the senior Springboks will be well rested. Peter de Villiers has to hope his men are burning with desire to restore the good name of Springbok rugby.

If not, the ‘Boks could set off back to New Zealand in just four weeks’ time with their tails already firmly between their legs.