Life and its surprises
Life is, as they say, full of surprises.
The past weekend produced a year’s worth in the space of just a few hours, on and off the field.
The three Sanzar powers all revealed their teams for the June internationals, with plenty of new faces, and a real shock decision in both the All Black and Springbok camps.
I must say I am intrigued…puzzled even, by some aspects of Heyneke Meyer's first Springbok selection. There is an interesting contrast between the non-selection of Heinrich Brussow for the Boks, and the inclusion of Ali Williams and Piri Weepu for the All Blacks, decisions that have met with criticism in their respective countries.
None of those three have been in great form this year, but the new All Black selection panel have shown loyalty and put faith in Weepu and Williams to produce their best at the top level as they have done so often in the past.
No such loyalty or faith has been shown to Brussow, which I find extraordinary. He sits on the same level as David Pocock and Richie McCaw as the best ball-on-the-ground men in the game.
The new coach has certainly gone for size, but being close to the ground (a nice way of saying short-ish) can actually be an asset for an openside flanker, or fetcher as you say in SA, and has never been a hindrance to Brussow's game.
I read that Heyneke Meyer believes he is not doing so well since the breakdown laws were tinkered with, but I have a bit of trouble with that, given how good he was last year when the same laws applied.
It has always been my contention that the injury to Brussow was a huge factor in the Springboks' early exit from the Rugby World Cup…had he been on the field he would have negated the free pass David Pocock was given by referee Bryce Lawrence at the breakdown. I think the All Blacks won’t be too sad if Brussow is not going to be there come the Rugby Championship.
Juan de Jong and to a lesser extent Gio Aplon were other names I expected to see that didn’t make it, along with Fourie du Preez.
There had been so much talk about Fourie not just coming back, but taking over as captain. If any of his heart, body or mind were not 100 per cent committed to a return to test rugby then he has made a very honest decision, although making it so late in the piece probably hasn’t done his old boss any favours.
Still, there is some fantastic new talent in the side, as there is in the All Black team named this week for the three-test series against Ireland.
Most of the talk centred on Piri Weepu, Ma’a Nonu and Ali Williams, three veterans of the World Cup campaign who have not fired this year, and all of whom would not be in the side if it were picked purely on form.
Weepu is the most fortunate. He suffered an injury late in the World Cup, and took a lot of down time between seasons, and as a result he turned up unfit and overweight for the start of the Blues campaign.
Most thought Crusaders halfback Andy Ellis was a shoe-in, and he has been dropped. Arguably the form half in New Zealand is 20-year-old Hurricanes tyro TJ Perenara, but he hasn’t made it either, and many fans are not happy.
Weepu will be under intense pressure to justify the faith put in him.
Nonu came back late from an off season in Japan, and there is speculation he will be used sparingly to give him a bit of a break after playing non-stop for 16 months.
Williams has hardly fired a shot for the Blues, but the departure of Brad Thorn and the injury to Anthony Boric has left them short of experienced locks, which is to his fortune.
But aside from that people are welcoming the influx of new talent. Ireland will be a good first step ahead of what will be a fascinating Rugby Championship (what a naff name…couldn’t the marketing gurus come up with something a little more imaginative than that?)
As I wrote last week, it’s almost a shame we have to halt Super Rugby, which is poised for a really gripping last three weeks.
I have to admit I didn’t think the Stormers would beat the Bulls, I doubted the Hurricanes would beat the Waratahs, and I certainly didn’t see the Lions beating the Sharks….not when the Sharks had been so great the previous week. Those three results have really thrown a cat amongst the pigeons.
Just when people were starting the think the Stormers were going off track, they came up with a brilliant defensive effort at Loftus, complemented by some sharp attacking play when it was needed. Do I read it right…are there really only three Stormers players in the Springbok squad?