Who will be the next Springbok captain?

Written by leon. Posted in Opinion

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Published on November 03, 2011 with No Comments

So there are at least two vacancies up for grabs at the Springboks in the wake of the disappointing World Cup. John Smit has decided to retire at Saracens and Peter de Villiers will be relieved of his contract at the end of the year. In a series of two posts we’ll have a look at the candidates and make some predictions of who’ll be getting the jobs. First up, Captain.

To be captain of the Springboks you need a few very important qualities:

  1. You have to be an exceptionally talented rugby player that consistently deserves his place in the team. Too many times the captain has come under fire because another player deserves a specific spot on current form.
  2. You need experience but should preferably still be comfortably available for the next four years to make it to England 2015 as the best in your position.
  3. You have to be a real leader on the field and demand respect from team mates, opponents and of course the referee.
  4. You need some political skill. In SA unfortunately there is lots of politics to deal with that is most certainly part of the job. You need to be able to front hard questions and generally take the media’s onslaught in your stride.
  5. Lastly you need to be a forward, because we all know backs are just plain stupid and are too worried about their hair.

So far in the media a few names have been thrown into the bag with current Boks Schalk Burger, Juan Smith and Jean de Villiers probably the front runners for the job. I agree all three of these could be great, but I’m also going to add some other names and quickly look at each player’s chances.

Schalk Burger – Real Hulk of South Afrian Rugby. Started his Springbok career at the 2003 RWC and currently holds more than 70 caps. He has captained the Stormers and WP and has slightly reinvented himself of late. Playing a more rounded running and passing game and seeming calmer and more collected. Good to keep his place in the side with Heinrich Brussow filling the fetcher role and good qualities for captain. Only real drawback is his age putting him at 32 in 2015 he might just be off his best by then.

Juan Smith – Long time back row partner of Burger who has also been in the squad since 2003. Smith has been captaining the Cheetahs for many years and is a “lead from the front”, “bleed for my country” kinda guy. On the rugby field alone I’ll say he is the best candidate. Guys would follow him into war. Don’t know if he’ll be as able as John Smit in front of the media hordes though. He’s also 30 already, which makes him a serious doubt for the next World Cup and he has had serious injury problems of late.

Jean de Villiers – Another great that’s been around since 2002. He is a midfield master and has also proved his worth as captain with the Stormers and WP.  At 30 he also asks the question of age and whether he is still the best in the midfield. New talent like Juan de Jongh, Johan Sadie and the likes are knocking on the door to take up the number 12 jersey. And did I mention he is a back…

Chiliboy Ralapelle – From a very young age he has been primed as the “First Black Springbok Captain”. He has already captained the Boks as stand-in for a few tests but this future title has done him no good. Since the days of Jake White, Chilliboy has been dragged along as a quota player at the Boks and at the Bulls. Warming benches and receiving caps for the odd 5 or 10 mins on the field. In this year’s Super Rugby season for the first time he actually got enough game time to actually prove he deserves to be in the mix at the Boks but ended holding tackle bags in New Zealand, being chosen behind Smit and Bismark du Plessis. He is young enough, has the leadership skills, will be a “good political choice” that would draw more South Africans to the game, but sadly he has to compete with one of the best rugby players of a generation for his place in the team, which would make him a very bad choice.

Andriaan Strauss – Personally I think he has stood out as a great captain at the Cheetahs when Smith has not been available. On captaining skills I think he would have deserved a look, but sadly will also have to compete with Bismarck for a place. Next…

Josh Strauss – Together with John Mitchell has taken the Lions from zero’s to heroes in one short year. The man with(out) the beard has shown he can lead from the front and inspire a team through a rebuilding phase as the Boks will be doing next year. He is young, very talented and a proven leader. He just needs a place in the side. So far the selectors have overlooked him with plentiful talent in the back rows but it might just be a matter of time. He definitely is an option for the future.

Andries Bekker – My last big oddball I’m throwing in here. After missing the World Cup through injury many people have forgotten about the Goliath that is the undisputed heir to Victor Matfield’s lineout mastery crown. Of all the above nominees, I think he is the most assured of his place in the team after Matfield’s departure. At 27 he is young enough and has some experience of captaining the Stormers. A recent extra-maritial affair that got leaked in the media would have blemished his reputation but I think he can be a good option because of his secure place in the team.

So there you have our candidates. Personally I think the best choice will probably be to go with Schalk Burger for the next two years and then reassess the situation. The Boks shouldn’t make the same mistake of guaranteeing players places in the next World Cup squad and getting dependent on those senior players. Then someone like Josh Strauss or Bekker can take over and take the Boks to the next World Cup.

It all still probably relies on who is selected as the new coach as he will have the biggest say in who he will be working with. Next time we’ll have a crack at predicting who will be calling the shots as the new Springbok coach.

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