John Smit’s biggest challenge in 2011 is to stir his troops

Former British Lion and indeed Gauteng Lion scrumhalf John Robbie raised the pertinent point in his Saturday newspaper column at the weekend of whether Springbok coach Peter de Villiers should abandon some of his pedigreed veterans when he picks his World Cup squad in favour of young mongrels.

Well we know the Bok coach won’t go that route – the squad of contracted players he announced in April contained almost all of the veterans of the last four years and illustrated that he is banking on experience to win the Boks their second successive World Cup title.

Well, two-in-a-row has never been done before at World Cup level, and maybe there is a reason why. World Cup history is littered with has-been teams arriving to defend titles or indeed to contest the title having narrowly lost out in the previous campaign, only to disappear without trace.

The million dollar question for coaches is when to know whether players are past it or still have it in them.

I will never forget Nick Mallett, years after the 1999 World Cup, discussing with me his admitted “monumental stuff-up” in dropping Gary Teichmann for the (ultimately injured) Bob Skinstad.

Mallett said that he had been influenced by a chat he had on the golf course with former All Black coach John Hart, Mallett’s rival in the late ‘90s. Hart had told Mallett that he had made the fatal mistake of hanging onto veteran All Blacks in 1998 (the year they lost five in a row) instead of retiring the Old Guard (including greats such Michael Jones) in favour of young blood.

Mallett said he had tried to avoid the mistake of Hart by retiring older players such as Teichmann before they had gone a season past their best – he also had no shortage of advice on this issue from assistant coach Alan Solomons, who was convinced Skinstad had the X factor to win the 1999 World Cup for the Boks while Teichmann could not do the same.

Mallett and Solomons gambled and lost. Teichmann was the pillar around which the Boks were built at that time, and they could well have won had he been at the helm, and in any case, Skinstad’s infamous knee injury had not healed and he was not a major influence at the tournament.

In 2011, the Teichmann case resonates once more. There are calls to drop John Smit, even though history in a clarion call shouts: “Don’t drop your captain in a World Cup year!”

Well Smit will not be dropped, and the core of the team will be 30 something veterans that played with vitality in 2007.

Will they have the same hunger this time around when, as Robbie put it, they already have World Cup winners medals on their mantle pieces?

We know Peter de Villiers has placed his trust in the veterans of previous wars won. Will they be able to respond and reward that loyalty? Can they possibly have the same hunger in 2011 as they did in 2007?

Should De Villiers not be bold and pick a team of ravenous mongrels with everything to prove?

I recall the defending champion Wallabies coming to South Africa for the 1995 World Cup with a team of superstars that had won in England in 1991. They proved to be utter dog poo. They had all the reputations in the world but there was nothing going on in their performances. The players had done it all before and just could not get out of the starting blocks.

John Smit’s biggest challenge in 2011 is to stir his troops (and himself) into a mental place where 2011 means as much to them as 2007.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: