“The coach told me from the beginning that I was in his plans and I knew where I stood, so it wasn’t a total surprise,” debutant scrumhalf Rudy Paige said of his inclusion in the Springboks’ World Cup squad despite not featuring at all in the Rugby Championship.
Paige was chosen as one of three scrumhalves along with veterans Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar, and seemingly leapfrogged Cobus Reinach, who was Pienaar’s understudy throughout the Rugby Championship.
But in a dismal tournament for the Springboks, Reinach’s decision-making was often exposed, most notably against the All Blacks when he took a free kick from the wrong place and had his try disallowed, lost possession by going on a solo attack, and also spread the ball wide when the gap had opened up for him to go through.
“The Bulls had an indifferent season, but I felt my energy and consistency were still good and I wanted to take that to the Springbok squad. Obviously I had to lift it at the Springboks and I was very happy just to observe Fourie du Preez at training, how he goes about things. He’s probably still the best scrumhalf in the world and I was learning every day,” Paige said.
The 26-year-old enjoyed an outstanding Super Rugby campaign and is an efficient, quick passer of the ball as well as having an immaculate kicking game.
“Cobus Reinach was injured for a lot of Super Rugby and I tried to give him game time but he never quite recaptured his form. Rudy provides really good service and he’s more or less like Fourie du Preez as a player. He has an unbelievable kicking game in the wet and great service, and unfortunately he got injured on the end-of-year tour,” coach Heyneke Meyer said when explaining his selection.
As for allowing a situation where Paige will go to the World Cup without having played any Test rugby, Meyer defended his management of the new cap.
“I wanted to play him in Buenos Aires, but the guys who let the country down in Durban had to go and fix it. Even the Australian squad has guys who haven’t played at all and I don’t think playing one Test will make that much difference,” Meyer said.
“That end-of-year tour opened my eyes to what I’m capable of and it made me hungry to be part of the Springbok team, I saw what the blazer means to them. I want to be part of that for most of my career and I need to improve my defence and adapt to international rugby as quickly as possible. My quick service and my kicking game are the things I back myself on,” Paige, the son of a delighted Congregational Church priest in Oudtshoorn, said.