Who would your captain be?
One of the wonderful reminders that you constantly get as a rugby scribe is that your team never takes the field.
Coaches love reminding you of it in their deepest darkest moments. Those moments where the world is against them, and they know their only hope is to push on forward until they come out of this darkness.
I returned to South Africa this week after a few days in Europe, taking my mind off the Springbok team discussions to join a group of sporting mad folk on the Castle Tavern Tour. It was a great change of pace, but it was also a reminder of how diverse rugby opinions are in our country.
And on returning, the news that Fourie du Preez is set to captain the Springboks hit the news pages and once again the comment columns were full of those questioning Meyer’s decision.
It left me shaking my head. Who would want to be a Springbok coach, especially as every move you make is scrutinised down to the last letter?
Any coach would want a player he knows and trusts to lead the team. John Smit was hounded when Jake White appointed him, but ultimately answered his critics by winning the World Cup in 2007. While he may have stayed on a bit too long in the post, it reminds us as well of how tricky that decision to choose a captain can be.
For those who doubt Fourie du Preez and his credentials, remember this: he never retired from international rugby. I posed the question to him in Taupo at the World Cup about his future after Japan and he agreed he still had ambitions to play for the Boks in the future.
While he wasn’t at his best at the World Cup, he was improving in every game, and we all know how devastating he can be when he is on top form. In Japan he won both the league and knockout trophies and according to sources, he was the reason why Eddie Jones’s side was triumphant.
He has been rested and will arrive in Durban fresh for the challenge, and has already made it clear he sees this as short term, as has Heyneke Meyer.
Du Preez is no glory-hound. He knows that Francois Hougaard is the successor but he also knows his coach is in a tight spot. For those who criticise, let me put it another way: who would your captain be?
So often it is said you need to choose your captain and then the team around them. In this scenario it makes it tricky.
There have been injuries to Schalk Burger and Juan Smith, while none of the other captaincy candidates are either on top form, or assured of their places. And that isn’t even taking into account the trust that needs to be there between player and coach.
Jean de Villiers? Well, if he’s captain what do you do with Frans Steyn or Juan de Jongh? Pierre Spies? Not playing well enough to warrant the captaincy while at hooker Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss and Chiliboy Ralepelle have too much competition from each other to be serious candidates.
Meyer has been in a similar situation before. When he took over the Bulls he placed the captaincy in the hands of a young Chris le Roux, who never had the respect of the senior players, which affected his game and ultimately led to a poor season and Le Roux, a promising player, disappearing from the rugby community.
So what is Meyer to do? Knowing the pressure he is under, and the vehement criticism that has already come his way without a ball kicked in anger, he knows he needs to win.
Victory in the series against a rested and organised English team is a non-negotiable, and will take some pressure off him going into a tough Castle Rugby Championship.
It is understandable then that Meyer will want a captain he knows and trusts. A senior player with the respect of the other players and a game breaker in that.
Hougaard can always be used on the wing, where he has been more devastating than behind the scrum, and after the England series, will revert back as the No 1.
A little sidebar though: another reason for the Du Preez move could be that none of the other scrumhalves in the country have impressed Meyer enough to deputise for Hougaard.
After three weeks with the squad he will have a better idea of players performing under pressure. He will be more settled and feel more at home and confident in his choices.
As I said at the start of the column, my Springbok team never has to face up to battle. This is why I’m willing to give Heyneke the breathing space he needs right now and back his choice of captain.