Not since the Bring Back Buck campaign has rugby had a bigger selection controversy than that currently raging over South Africa's best openside flanker, Luke Watson.

In one corner is dogmatic school teacher-turned-rugby coach Jake White; in the other is a young buck who is playing out of his skin to the applause of the entire South African rugby public.

The poorer the Springboks play, the more Watson shines in the Currie Cup as leader of Western Province. And as the floundering White endeavours to pick every flank in the country but Watson, so the country is turning on the coach.

We are at a stage where the Watson controversy will sink White just as much as the Boks' results.

What we know for certain is that these two will never share a rugby changing-room. It is way too late for that. The fall-out has grown increasingly bitter since the first time White overlooked Watson in age group rugby four years ago. He is now 23.

Two weeks ago, White calmly told the public that Watson was not being picked because he was not good enough and there were "better players already in the squad" .

A week later, in a magazine article, Watson hit back: "Jake has lost the integrity, honour and pride that the Boks should be about" - in reference to the coach's disdainful comments about individuals. For instance, after Stormers hooker Schalk Brits said he was considering going overseas, White reportedly said he could "recommend a good travel agent".

And when asked why he was not picking a "fetcher", such as Watson, White said the best fetcher he knew was his son, who did a great job of bringing him beers on a Sunday.

It is worth taking any subjectivity out of the argument by going to the Super 14 statistics collated by New Zealand company Verusco. Their conclusion on the openside flankers who played in the competition was that Watson was second only to Richie McCaw when it came to ball carries, tackles made, balls slowed, turnovers created and effective cleans. By some distance, Phil Waugh was third followed by Chris Masoe. So the facts tell us that Watson is South Africa's best opensider, despite White's shameless contention to the contrary.

Which brings us to the inevitable conclusion that it must be something personal.

"Of course it is," says Watson. "I have been told Jake believes I come with too much political baggage because of my father," Watson told SA Sports Illustrated. "That is not good in a team environment."

Luke's dad, Cheeky Watson, was a high-profile anti-apartheid activist and a very good rugby player in his day. In fact he was on course for Springbok selection in the 1970s when he renounced "white" rugby and played out his days with black clubs in the townships.

He was actively involved with the banned African National Congress, and the Watson household regularly hid fugitives from apartheid police. Eventually the secret police burnt the Watson house to the ground. Indeed, you could make a movie out of the Watson story.

"The type of political baggage I come with is normally held in high regard, as my father was a liberation fighter," says proud Luke. "If Jake White doesn't agree with that sort of legacy and background, then he is against everything that equality and unity stand for.

"He is basically saying that what my father did was wrong."

Cheeky reckons it all comes down to problems between Luke and his high school teacher. Luke's teacher and White were great mates and you know what teachers can be like ... obstinate, pig-headed, and above all they do not like rebellion.

Among Luke's "crimes" at school was to lead a First XV strike because there had been objections that Luke was getting carried away with the pre-match prayer and was abusing his position as captain by preaching sermons (the Watsons are unashamed evangelists).

This theory makes sense - long before White became Springbok coach, he felt he could do without strong-willed individuals such as Watson in his teams. The longer he left Watson out, the more difficult it became for him to concede he needed Watson.

There is no question that White's stubbornness has forced him into a corner and the only way he can save face now is to admit he got it wrong.

* Mike Greenaway is chief rugby writer at the Natal Mercury in Durban.