In most circumstances, a serious injury to a team’s captain would be a massive blow, but time will tell whether Pierre Spies’ absence due to a torn bicep injury will derail the Bulls’ bid to top the Super Rugby standings.
Spies is an enigma.
He has all the physical attributes to be one of the best No 8 men in the world, but too often his contribution to the performance of his team disappoints.
The Bulls are in the midst of an intense bid to secure a home play-off spot and in many ways Spies’ absence will give a true indication of his value to the team, and the extent to which the Springboks will miss him in the Rugby Championship.
Although Spies is highly rated by both Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer and his successor at the Bulls, Frans Ludeke, there are those who feel the injury suffered by the No 8 might well be a blessing in disguise.
Spies, who has represented the Boks 53 times since his debut against Australia in Brisbane in 2006, has not delivered on his immense promise.
A similar quandary can be found in cricket.
Shane Warne, before English left-arm spinner Monty Panesar revived his flagging test career in India last year, described him as playing the same test match over and over.
Spies seems to be caught in the same cycle since peaking during the British and Irish Lions series of 2009.
He missed the inaugural Rugby Championships last year because of a finger injury and is set to miss the tournament this year.
It will rob him of the opportunity to measure himself against Kieran Read, who is arguably the best No 8 in the world.
The two are separated by four months and nine days, but the Canterbury man has set a template that none of his contemporaries have been able to match.
Read took over the All Blacks and Crusaders’ captaincy from Richie McCaw, but even with the great No 7 in the side, he is still their most dynamic loose forward.
Until Read’s return, and despite a wealth of All Black experience in their pack, the Crusaders were listless without their captain, but have also righted the ship and are bidding to reach the Super Rugby play-offs.
The same cannot be said of Spies, whom Duane Vermeulen seamlessly replaced last season until the injury curse struck again.
Time out of the game may rejuvenate him, as it has done with Morne Steyn, but with others such as Willem Alberts, Siya Kolisi, Vermeulen (when he recovers) and perhaps even Ryan Kankowski given a chance in the No 8 jersey, Spies will have a fight on his hands to get back in the frame.
Although it might be a requirement from his coaches, Spies has tended to stand off too many rucks and mauls, goes to ground too easily and has not shown the linking, creative touches of Read.
But it might be that he has other qualities that impress the coaches and these, ironically, might be more obvious when he’s not playing for the Bulls or the Springboks.
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