Heyneke Meyer has reiterated the need for quality in depth and says that Schalk Burger could play a big role in the Springboks' World Cup squad, reports JON CARDINELLI in Cape Town.
Meyer has announced his match 23 to play the Wallabies this Saturday, making two significant changes at hooker and scrumhalf, starting Adriaan Strauss and Fourie du Preez. As a result, seasoned regulars Bismarck du Plessis and Ruan Pienaar have been dropped to the bench.
There have been relevant questions asked of Meyer's decision to bench Du Plessis at this stage of the competition. Du Plessis has been in outstanding form in recent weeks, and was at the heart of a massive forward showing against the Wallabies in Brisbane.
Meyer explained the decision to start Strauss this weekend was premeditated. It's a decision that Meyer feels will benefit the Boks now and in the build-up to the 2015 World Cup.
Meyer believes Du Plessis and Strauss to be the best two hookers in world rugby. He made it clear at the start of the Castle Rugby Championship that each player would start three Tests, and that this ploy was geared towards developing a strong squad for the all-important global tournament in England.
Du Plessis has now played 52 Tests for the Boks. Strauss is less experienced with 28 caps. Du Plessis is the better player, but Meyer is right to plan for the possibility that he could miss the World Cup through injury.
The Bok coach has said on numerous occasions that he would like to develop a squad of 35 players ahead of the World Cup. On Wednesday, Meyer went as far to say that the Boks would need between 10 and 15 players with 50 caps or more at this tournament.
As history shows, experience wins World Cups. It was an experienced Bok side that triumphed in France in 2007, and a seasoned All Blacks team that prevailed in 2011.
'This is probably the last year to experiment before that World Cup,' Meyer said. 'We have some guys coming back from injury in the next few months, so I believe that we have a strong group of players going forward.'
Flyhalf Johan Goosen has been ruled out for the rest of the season, but will provide a good alternative to Morné Steyn and Pat Lambie in 2014. World Cup-winner Frans Steyn is expected to be back in action come the end-of-year tour to Europe, and his experience would certainly serve as a boost.
JP Pietersen is another from the class of 2007 who will be available for that three-Test tour and there is a chance that Jaque Fourie, yet another seasoned Bok currently plying his trade in Japan, will be back in time for the 2015 World Cup.
There are also whisperings that Victor Matfeld is plotting a comeback, and don't bet against Bakkies Botha rejoining the ranks either.
Schalk Burger will make a return to rugby this Friday after nearly two seasons on the sideline. Burger has been named on the Western Province bench for their Currie Cup game against the Cheetahs.
While it could be several weeks before he is talked about as a genuine Bok option, Burger's progress will be closely monitored by the Bok management team. Meyer confirmed that he had met with Burger on Tuesday and was optimistic about the iconic flanker's future involvement.
'It's great news that he's back, said Meyer. 'I'm loyal to performance, but I know Schalk is a great player and a great leader. There will be injuries in the next year or so, and we will have need of quality players.
'He's a warrior to have fought back from injury and illness over the past year or so. That is what I like in a player. Hopefully he can get back to his best and press for a position in the starting line-up.
'Having said that, I believe that we have a very strong set of loose forwards at the moment, but we can't just have one player in each position.'
Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix
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Schalk Burger still has a role to play for the Boks, as a starter or substitute, writes JON CARDINELLI.