While there is consensus regarding Fourie du Preez's greatness, the Springboks still believe that they have an excellent scrumhalf alternative in Ruan Pienaar, reports JON CARDINELLI in Paris.
Du Preez is unavailable for the third and most important of the Boks' tour fixtures. The official line is that the backline general will fly home to be with his wife after the birth of their son, and that it had been agreed before the tour that he would not play in this match. However, SARugbymag.co.za understands that a back injury has also factored into the decision to miss a game of this magnitude.
Whatever the reasons, Du Preez will be missed. The pivotal No 9 was one of the best players for the Boks at the 2007 World Cup, and their best player during that glorious 2009 season where the Boks beat the British & Irish Lions 2-1 and thumped the All Blacks thrice in a successful Tri-Nations campaign. How Du Preez wasn't named IRB Player of the Year following those stellar performances remains a mystery.
There is no like-for-like replacement, no player in South Africa or anywhere else who measures up. And on this point, you are unlikely to get many arguments from the Bok coaching staff, who all hold Du Preez in the highest regard.
However, the professional game being what it is, every team needs more than one good option in each position. And as Bok assistant coach Johann van Graan was at pains to stress, South Africa is fortunate to have a player like Pienaar playing understudy to Du Preez. This Saturday will represent a great opportunity for 'the other No 9' to show what he can do.
'Fourie has made some brilliant decisions on this tour, and some of the plays, I don't think anybody else could have executed,' Van Graan said. 'That said, we are looking forward to seeing how Ruan goes this Saturday.
'Ruan has started most of the Test matches over the past two years. Fourie has started quite a bit recently, but Ruan has still performed well when coming off the bench. He is one of those special players capable of special moments. Hopefully he can produce one of those this Saturday.'
VARYING THE PLAY
The Boks will field a new starting halfback combination, with Pienaar and Morné Steyn replacing Du Preez and Pat Lambie. The real battle will be up front, and if the forwards can provide the backs with a platform, Pienaar and Steyn must take the right options.
Northern hemisphere conditions prescribe a more conservative game, but as Van Graan pointed out, this doesn't necessarily mean the Boks will stick to one approach. Indeed, this past season has witnessed a much better balance between kicking and running the ball.
'That try that JP Pietersen scored against Scotland was from a kick-off,' Van Graan said, referring to the play where Willie le Roux ran from deep, broke the line, and then chipped the ball for Pietersen to chase.
'I suppose most people would have expected us to kick it back [from that position], but we didn't. It was the same with Zane Kirchner's try against Australia [at Newlands in the recent Rugby Championship]. We have improved a lot in that respect this season.'
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
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