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Horses for courses

After a wet and slushy arm-wrestle against the Argentineans at Loftus this past Saturday, two things – or rather people – stood out.


A torrential Highveld storm swept across Pretoria minutes before kick-off, with hail and rain of biblical proportions bucketing down over Robbie Wessels as he sung the National Anthem.


However, when the game did finally get under way, a few things stood out in relation to the weather.


Firstly, the Argentineans seemed more at home in the conditions than the Springboks, who would have been banking on a crisp, dry winter's day at Loftus.


The make-up of the Pumas team speaks of players who mostly ply their trade in the Northern Hemisphere, when international duty isn't calling out to them.


Utility back Lucas González Amorosino plays for French club Montpellier, No.8 Juan Manuel Leguizamón plays for Lyon, fullback Joaquín Tuculet plays for Grenoble and so on.


For South Africa, Ruan Pienaar plays for Irish club Ulster, while flank Francois Louw plays for English club Bath.


This brings me to my second point; Pienaar has been lambasted by many in the general rugby population for his average performances for the Boks.


However, against the Pumas on Saturday he looked far more composed and comfortable and played one of his better games.


Francois Louw has always been a player that is not scared to get stuck in with the heavies around the ball – even when he was with the Stormers in the relatively dryer Newlands stadium, but he showed his worth again in the wet and wild rucks and tigh-phases.


Both these players have been playing in wet and slippery conditions for their clubs for some time now and while their teammates around them looked like fish out of water (perhaps not the best analogy…) they adapted quickly and played the conditions effectively.


A lot have been made about players leaving South Africa to chase the money in the Northern Hemisphere, with people stating their skills and general game play suffers – but this is where I disagree.


There has been many instances of players coming back to South Africa after a stint overseas with a brand new set of skills. 


Percy Montgomery came back from Wales before the 2007 World Cup and was a brand new player. Frans Steyn is another one whose stint in France seemed to mature his play (the same might not be said of his maturity in handling his Springbok contract though).


When I spoke to the ultimate 'utility back', Brent Russell a few weeks back about playing in England and France – he was all for it.


Russell believes that young players learn a whole new set of skills that they can bring back home and perform for the national squad should they be selected.


Now, my point is – should we not start choosing players depending on other factors, such as field conditions, weather, opposition, combinations etc?


If we have players who are gaining experience playing in wet, muddy and slow fields should they not be at the forefront of selection when we play in Ireland, Scotland (where the weather has seen the Boks come unstuck a few times) and England (with the small matter of the World Cup being hosted on the Mud Island in 2015).


South Africa is not short on depth; to be able to call upon a wrecking ball with an Aussie influenced brain and brand new shinny skill set who has been playing in Sydney when the Boks take on Australia might be a better than wheeling out the old faithful bulldozer that couldn't side step a slow-moving glacier.


Meyer might have shown his cards slightly this weekend when he quickly whipped off the inexperienced Handre Pollard at half-time for the French-based Morne Steyn. The youngster looked out of his depth trying to run at the line and play his normal attacking game that he has perfected on the usually hard and dry tracks of Pretoria.


A horses for courses approach is not the ultimate answer – just like Communism didn't work but the value of socialism can be seen – perhaps we need to start utilising our foreign imports skill sets when the situation calls for it – requiring a master-tactician in the coaches box.

By Darryn Pollock


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