Rory Kockott becomes eligible for France in August. Heyneke Meyer must change the course of his international career before then, writes RYAN VREDE.
I tempered my view on Kockott, even after his superb season last year, which culminated with him winning France's Player of the Year award. The calls for his elevation into the Springbok squad were widespread, but I wasn't sure if what I saw was a average player having the season of his life, or the evidence of a very good player having reached a point in his career where his talent is exhibited in a consistent way.
After tracking Kockott's performances this season, I'm thoroughly convinced he has developed into a player of international quality. Certainly his performance over the course of the 100-minute Top 14 semi-final this weekend spoke of a player of an exceptionally high calibre. He has been the fulcrum around which Castres has revolved. He has been the catalyst for their dramatic improvement.
I'm usually loathe to promote the cause of a player without having seen him tested against the best sides in Super Rugby for an extended period. But Kockott has excelled in the European Cup, a tournament that features some of the world's best players. He was raw when he left our shores in 2011, but has refined since, and has earned the right to be spoken about in an international context.
At this stage it appears likely he will realise the goal of playing Test rugby, but not for the country of his birth. France coach Philippe Saint-André has made no secret of his admiration for the player, whose three-year qualification period is drawing to a close. Unless there is decisive intervention from Meyer in the coming months, Kockott will be lost to the Springboks for good.
He was sounded out by Springbok management in June 2013 when Francois Hougaard and Jano Vermaak were ruled out through injury. However, he was injured himself at the time and his place was taken by Piet van Zyl, who debuted against Scotland in the incoming tour Test.
Technically, Kockott appears to have a broad skills base – including a tactical and goal-kicking game that has improved exponentially during his time in France. Most notably, his temperament under pressure – a critical trait for success at Test level – is clear. Furthermore, physically he is imposing, completing a list of key criteria Meyer looks for in his players.
The Springbok coach is, however, reluctant to look beyond home soil when compiling his squads. He has done so only when utterly convinced that a foreign-based player is better than his local options. Kockott fits this bill.
Fourie du Preez is likely to remain the incumbent No 9 for the foreseeable future, but Kockott compares favourably with Du Preez's deputy Ruan Pienaar and should challenge for this position in the squad.
Personally, I try to make a point of not extolling the potential international virtues of every South African who performs at an above-average level in Europe unless they sustain that performance through the European Cup over more than one tournament. Kockott has done this and has established himself among the pre-eminent scrumhalves in Europe. A strong argument can be made that he is the best.
There are no uncapped, foreign-based South Africans who I would consider a major loss if they opted to play for their adopted nation. None except Kockott. He has consistently intimated his preference would be to play for the Springboks. But he won't hang around in hope for much longer. France beckons.
Your move, Heyneke.
Photo: Thierry Zoccolan/AFP Photo