Peter Bills: South Africa poised for second-string selection

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The Independent Online

Springbok coach Peter de Villiers has wisely indicated that he will use mostly northern hemisphere based players to fulfill the Boks' Test fixture against Wales in Cardiff on June 5.

This unwanted extra match, doubtless fitted it chiefly for financial gain for both nations, clutters up still further an already congested South African Test fixture list for 2010. If the Springboks were to involve their top players in all 15 planned Test matches for this season they would be out for the count long before the end of year tour to the northern hemisphere got under way.

So de Villiers has indicated he will select chiefly from players in France, Ireland and England. And there is no shortage of candidates. Several South Africans again distinguished themselves last weekend in club fixtures in the northern hemisphere countries.

In France, the likes of Joe van Niekerk, Shaun Sowerby, Ross Skeate, Gerrie Britz, Francois van der Merwe, Jacques Cronje and Daan Human would all come to mind for slots in the pack. Behind the scrum, Marius Joubert is fit again and playing well for Clermont Auvergne while Frans Steyn (Racing Metro) Philip Burger (Perpignan), Noel Oelschig (Stade Francais) and Brent Russell from Clermont could also be considered.

From Ireland, the Springboks could draw Jean de Villiers, BJ Botha and CJ van der Linde. The versatility of van der Linde means that he could fill in on either side of the front row. In England there are many candidates.

Bath's exciting late challenge for a place in the Guinness Premiership play-offs has been spurred by the outstanding form of three South Africans; half-backs Butch James and Michael Claassens plus No. 8 Luke Watson. They have helped lift a side that, back in January, seemed likelier to be facing a struggle against relegation than contesting the Premiership title in one of the play-off places.

Then there is lock forward Marco Wentzel who has been a huge inspiration to Leeds Carnegie in their successful bid for Premiership survival.

Saracens, heavily influenced by South Africans and well in the hunt for the Premiership title, could contribute half-backs Derick Hougaard and Neil de Kock, plus hooker Schalk Brits who has been in scintillating form. London Irish have hooker Danie Coetzee and tight head prop Faan Rautenbach and another front row option would be Northampton's ex-Stormers prop Brian Mujati.

Of course, this would be a desperately scratch side bearing no resemblance whatever to a real Springboks XV. But if that's what the public are willing to pay to watch in Cardiff, so be it. More fool them. You can't blame de Villiers for preferring to keep at home his top men, saving them the unnecessary physical commitment of a journey to the UK for a match he didn't want.

The South African Board who agreed to the whole daft idea, and the Welsh Rugby Union who kept pestering them to agree to it, are the ones who must explain themselves. The rush for cash by the Unions in the modern game has become blatant and at times grotesque. Matches like the Wales v South Africa game in Cardiff in June just devalue Test match rugby.

Nevertheless, are we sure that the following South African side couldn't go close to beating what has been an ordinary Welsh team this year? After all, several of these players, the likes of Jean de Villiers, Frans Steyn, Marius Joubert, Butch James, BJ Botha and Joe van Niekerk, who has been in brilliant form for Toulon all season, are established Springboks, players of proven international quality.

And to have guys like Toulouse prop Daan Human, one of the best loose head props in world rugby, his club colleague No. 8 Shaun Sowerby, those speedy, versatile back three players Phillip Burger and Brent Russell, Schalk Britz, Marco Werntzel and Luke Watson to add onto that nucleus, hardly suggests a weak outfit.

My 'Bootleg' Springboks:

F. Steyn (Racing Metro, Paris); P. Burger (Perpignan), M. Joubert (Clermont Auvergne), J. de Villiers (Munster), B. Russell (Clermont Auvergne); B. James (Bath), M. Claassens (Bath); D. Human (Toulouse), S. Britz (Saracens), BJ Botha (Ulster), M. Wentzel (Leeds), R. Skeate (Toulon), L. Watson (Bath), J. van Niekerk (Toulon), S. Sowerby (Toulouse).

South Africa's 2010 Test schedule:

June 5: v Wales (Cardiff)

June 12: v France (Cape Town)

June 19: v Italy (Witbank)

June 26: v Italy (East London)

July 10: v New Zealand (Auckland)

July 17: v New Zealand (Wellington)

July 24: v Australia (Brisbane)

August 21: v New Zealand (Johannesburg)

August 28: v Australia (Pretoria)

September 4: v Australia (Bloemfontein)

November 6: v Ireland (Dublin)

November 13: v Wales (Cardiff)

November 20: v Scotland (Edinburgh)

November 27: v England (Twickenham)

December 4: v Barbarians (Twickenham)