No South African scrumhalf has played consistently well enough to unseat Fourie du Preez as the Springboks' premier No 9 for a demanding 2015 Test season, writes RYAN VREDE.
Du Preez has been back in South Africa since his Japanese club Suntory's season ended but is contractually prohibited from participating in any Springbok training camps until the Test window opens in July. He has, however, been following an intense conditioning and training schedule and in an interview with me for the next issue of SA Rugby magazine, he told me he was 'physically, technically and mentally in a great place'.
The Springbok management team have confirmed Du Preez is part of their plans and aren't concerned that he wouldn't have played for an extended period before the start of the Test season. Du Preez shares the view that it won't hinder his game to the point where he's a liability.
'There was a similar situation before the Wales Tests in 2014 and I thought I played really well there,' he said. 'Sure I'd need to shake off some of the rust but I'm not too concerned about coming into Test rugby after a long layoff. Actually I think it could benefit me because I'll come in fresh and injury-free.'
This will be Du Preez's last Test season (he will retire after the World Cup) and he remains a key – arguably the key – player for the Springboks. Du Preez thought the 2011 World Cup would be his last involvement with the Springboks but reconsidered after watching the performances of the Bok scrumhalves.
'I thought I was still good enough to be the first- or second-choice scrumhalf for the Boks. I thought I could help improve the team. So I made myself available again in 2013,' he said.
That situation hasn't changed. When handed opportunities, Ruan Pienaar and Francois Hougaard lacked the consistency needed to make the position their own and none of the current crop of South African No 9s playing Vodacom Super Rugby are better than Du Preez. Certainly he remains Heyneke Meyer's first-choice scrumhalf because of his broad skills base, tactical versatility, and temperament under pressure honed by extensive experience.
There are some emerging scrumhalves who could go on to do well after Du Preez retires but at present none even warrant discussion in the context of his competition. Du Preez is unmatched in all key performance areas for his position and is central to the Springboks' game plan working, whether they play in a pragmatic or more expansive manner.
Furthermore, a 9-10 axis of Du Preez and Handré Pollard has the potential to be an incredibly potent attacking weapon for the Springboks and needs to be one that's developed through the Rugby Championship with a view to it running white-hot at the World Cup.
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