The rugby public found themselves in similar territory exactly a year ago before Allister Coetzee unveiled his first captain. Back then Adriaan Strauss wasn’t exactly a clear-cut choice, but with other candidates like Pat Lambie struggling for fitness at the time, Warren Whiteley’s international inexperience and the desire to appoint a local-based skipper, Strauss was a safe option.
Remember, after the World Cup the experienced nucleus in terms of Tests played and captained, Jean de Villiers, Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez were all lost. Strauss was one of a handful senior players left with previous leadership experienced, guiding the Cheetahs to an unexpected Super Rugby play-off spot in 2012.
But with the Bulls hooker having retired from international rugby, armchair selectors have seemingly reverted to the preStrauss debate. The names of overseas-based players Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw keep on popping up alongside Lambie, Whiteley and new candidates Siya Kolisi and Eben Etzebeth. Even Handre Pollard was in the mix before suffering another long-term injury.
Honestly, I don’t think it should be as complicated. At this stage, there is just one man for the job and that is Whiteley. Finish en klaar. It is no secret he is an inspirational leader who has proved hisworth through the years by guiding the Lions from Super Rugby obscurity all the way to last year’s final.
This year he has continued to impress by calmly leading his men out of tight situations to record victories against the Cheetahs, Sharks and Jaguares. And that is exactly the kind of grit the Boks will need to grind out tough wins this year to win back public confidence as they look to improve on their dismal 2016. I really can’t see why Vermeulen and Louw should even be considered.
Why should the need to have a locally-based captain change from one year to the next? Maybe there was a case if we were talking about someone with an undisputed record as captain, but what do Vermeulen and Louw have to show? As far as Lambie goes, he has only just returned from injury again and might not even be considered to start the first Test against France next month. Kolisi might be a future candidate, but he’s got a lot to learn.
After leading the Stormers to six wins in his first six matches in charge, he was badly exposed against the Lions and their dismal New Zealand tour didn’t do him any favours. I also don’t buy the Etzebeth argument that he is worth a shot because of his vast international experience. And the fact that he is guaranteed of his Test starting place … always the point anti-Whiteley fans will argue.
There is no hiding the fact that Whiteley isn’t the most flashy player, but he does his job as the perfect link between forwards and backs in a Lions jersey with aplomb. He is also a full international season better off than he was a year ago. And please don’t tell me that his international form wasn’t great last year, because which player’s form was? As the standout candidate, Coetzee has to accommodate Whiteley in his game plan.
Beggars simply can’t be choosers.