Fourie du Preez holds the key to the Springboks’ fortunes during the business end of the World Cup, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Du Preez has been refreshingly honest in his self-appraisal, both before and during the World Cup.
At the squad announcement at the end of August, the veteran scrumhalf admitted he wasn’t 100% sure that he was still the same player he was in 2007 and 2009. On those occasions he guided the Boks to World Cup success and a British and Irish Lions series win.
And just last week, after being named as the Springboks’ stand-in skipper, he again mentioned that he’d had serious doubts about whether he was capable of making it to the World Cup, particularly with injuries hampering his progress during the buildup to the tournament.
Yet Du Preez has proved the doubters wrong, including himself, and myself. He's answered the question I asked a month ago about whether he could wind back the clock.
His impact off the bench against Japan was notable, but ultimately in vain. Against Samoa and Scotland, though, he has been the fulcrum around which the Bok machine has revolved.
Du Preez is not the quickest scrumhalf around, but he doesn’t have to be. His decision-making and decisiveness remains peerless. While he may not really offer a sniping threat around the rucks – like Aaron Smith – he still keeps the opposition guessing with the timing of his passes and ability to direct players into the role of first receiver.
Du Preez’s draw and pass to JP Pietersen to score against the Scots was simple, but a thing of beauty. His understanding and delivery of the pass for Handré Pollard’s drop goal was another accurate and effective piece of play.
The next time the Boks play, keep an eye on Du Preez and the work he does off the ball. His communication and direction is outstanding. At the base of the rucks, he calls the shots: either edging the forwards into action, bringing the backs into play or putting boot to ball.
After three games at the World Cup, the Boks still don’t quite look like world-beaters, but with Du Preez at the helm you get the feeling they will always have a chance. He remains a match-winner. He is still capable of fulfilling the game-shaping role he played for the Boks in 2007 and 2009.
And credit where it’s due. Heyneke Meyer, amidst a variety of criticism, continually said he knew what he had in Du Preez, and that he would back him to come good even without playing a minute of Test rugby before the World Cup.
Meyer recognised the potential Du Preez had as a player and leader when the scrumhalf was just a teenager. Some 15 years later, Meyer is once again reaping the rewards.
Make no mistake, if the Boks progress to the final and somehow find a way get their hands on the Webb Ellis trophy once again, Du Preez will have been the man that largely made it happen.
Finally, let me defer to former Bok coach Nick Mallett, who best summed up Du Preez’s contribution after the victory over Scotland.
‘Like any great scrumhalf, Fourie scans before he gets his hands on the ball, so when he gets to a ruck his head is already turning to assess the options, and by the time he gets his hands on the ball he's got a clear understanding of which side he's going to go and who he's going to play … He is calm and controlled, he scans for the best options and his passing skills are so good that he can play a number of different options. He is key to South Africa going a long way in this tournament.’
Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images