Springboks in need of a Test

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The Independent Online

Given the state of most of the northern hemisphere countries’ rugby teams at the moment, the Springboks could probably afford to select Nelson Mandela in his beloved No. 6 jersey and put Jacob Zuma at tight head prop for their end of year tour. They’d still be too strong for most opponents.

Ireland are the only serious threat right now and South Africa don’t meet them. England are re-building with a bunch of youngsters and a new coach and manager. They might need three years to get things right, although they probably do have a pack to give the ‘Boks something to think about.

Wales would have presented the biggest threat to Peter de Villiers’ touring South Africans but they’re currently in the midst of a civil war between the Welsh Rugby Union and the leading provincial sides. Scotland are Scotland – proud but reduced warriors. The French, as ever, seem all over the place.

The point is, I wonder who is going to provide the definitive answer to De Villiers’ questions concerning his fly half. England’s Danny Cipriani is an exciting talent but very inexperienced. Wales’s James Hook is talented but the lack of preparation might undermine Wales, as their frustrated coach Warren Gatland well knows.

I’ve always thought Sharks' half back Ruan Pienaar was a hugely talented young footballer, but I’ve also thought for a long time that Earl Rose lacks the consistency and tactical acumen to be a Test match player. I might be wrong on both but the continuing dithering over what to do with Frans Steyn is of greater concern.

Here surely, is one of the most talented young players in South African rugby. But, Currie Cup win and drop goals against Australia at Newlands notwithstanding, he apparently still can’t convince the national selectors firstly where he should be played and secondly, whether he’s worth a place in the national team at all.

I fear that if someone doesn’t start investing in Steyn’s skills and undoubted class, someone in the northern hemisphere at one of their leading clubs, will. It would be too late then for the kind of wailing and gnashing of teeth that would surely follow news of Steyn’s departure to an English or French club.

For me, the decision to look beyond Stormers' fly half Peter Grant is correct. But I still believe that a Pienaar-Steyn partnership could take the Springboks all the way to the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

The other fascination is John Smit’s sideways move to tight head prop. Players can adapt in the front row but generally only over a lengthy period of time.

These changes might not be exposed on a tour where the opposition seems at best limited. But against New Zealand, it might be a very different scenario.