Veterans and youngsters alike will have everything to prove in the next three Tests as Bok coach Heyneke Meyer starts to make plans for the 2015 World Cup, reports JON CARDINELLI in Cardiff.
The Springbok coach said on Monday that while the tourists will not take their opponents lightly, there is a greater plan afoot to ensure the team peaks at the World Cup two years from now.
MEYER'S LONG-TERM GOAL
That tournament will be staged in England, and Meyer has said from the outset that he wants players capable of excelling in northern hemisphere conditions. The current tour to Wales, Scotland, and France will show Meyer exactly who is capable of performing on the slow, wet fields of the north, and who is surplus to requirement.
'Next year, we will pick the best team and try to get them playing together for as many games as possible. But right now, two years out from the World Cup, I want to find out if some of the guys can make it. I'd rather see the mistakes now than at a World Cup,' Meyer said.
'You still want to win games now, but you need to give these guys opportunities. If I remember last year's tour [to the north], we learned a lot about the players. Some aren't here [with the team] anymore, and others have grown stronger.
'I've already decided that it doesn't matter what happens in the first game [against Wales], some players will also get chances against Scotland. And by the end of this tour we should know at least 25 of the 30 players who will go to the World Cup.'
The weather in Cardiff on Monday was fine and clear, but is expected to grow wetter and windier as game day approaches. Meyer is hoping the Boks will be tested by both the hosts and the conditions this Saturday, as this will serve to answer a few nagging selection questions.
REINTEGRATING THE VETERANS
Several changes will be made to the team that last featured against the All Blacks on 5 October. The Boks have lost tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis to injury, and lock Juandré Kruger has been dropped from the squad. These men will need to be replaced, and there will be a few more changes as Meyer looks to reintegrate several veterans who have not played Test rugby for some time.
Fourie du Preez made a successful comeback to international rugby in August, and is set to retain his starting position at No 9. JP Pietersen is expected to be back on the wing this Saturday, teaming up with his old team-mate Bryan Habana, who has been given a clean bill of health, despite concerns of a hamstring injury.
Jaque Fourie has missed nearly two seasons of international rugby due to his club commitments in Japan. Meyer said on Monday that he wants to see what Pietersen and Fourie can offer sooner rather than later, and that a tour to the region where the World Cup will be staged represents an ideal opportunity.
'JP has been with us previously so he will know most of the systems. Jaque hasn't been [with this group under Meyer], but he has been awesome in training. It's now time to see which guys can take us to the next level, and who can play at the World Cup.'
Meyer reiterated that it should not matter where players are based. Pietersen, Du Preez, and Fourie all play their club rugby in Japan, while Habana and several other important members of the squad are based in Europe. Ultimately it's about putting together the best possible team to obtain a positive result in the short and long term.
'It's a balancing act, but I've long believed that they are still South Africans, and I need to pick the best team for the country. We want to be the best in the world. Obviously if it's a 50/50 call we will go for the local guy. But if you have a world-class player, it is not so easy to replace him with a youngster in just a week, or even in a year.
'I believe that a lot of those guys are still the best in the world in their positions. In every position we have a lot of youngsters who can potentially replace them, but not right now. It takes time to get there.'
THE PROBLEM AT TIGHTHEAD AND NO 5
Talking about balance between experience and youth, Meyer conceded that he would have no choice but to field a new starting tighthead. The Bok coach seem reluctant to push Coenie Oosthuizen, who has played most of his Super Rugby career at loosehead, into the No 3 position at this stage.
Oosthuizen is a long-term project, and Meyer said in this instance he may look for a short-term solution by handing one of Frans Malherbe or Lourens Adriaanse a debut.
At No 5, Meyer is likely to opt for the experience of Flip van der Merwe. The uncapped Pieter-Steph du Toit is still too green to be handed the responsibility of managing the lineouts.
'I brought Pieter-Steph into the Bok set-up when he was just 19. Outside of the lineout he's brilliant. The tough thing in our system is that the No 5 lock makes all the lineout calls, and that is probably the most important facet of play. It would be unfair to just throw him in now and expect him to run all the lineouts. He will make his debut in the next two Tests, but it will be a slow process.'
There are other players who will come into the World Cup reckoning next season, such as Victor Matfield, who is set to make a return to rugby through the Bulls in Super Rugby. Another veteran in Schalk Burger, who recently returned from an 18-month injury lay-off, will also be looking to prove a point.
While there will still be room for some late inclusions, Meyer confirmed that this tour will see the majority of his World Cup questions answered. By the time the Boks have played France on 23 November, Meyer believes he will know who has the potential to succeed at a tournament played in these conditions, and who does not.
Photo: Jason Oxenham/Getty Images
Super Rugby stats (Round 4)
SARugbymag.co.za looks at the players who topped the stats in key areas of the game this past weekend as well as for the season so far.
Cheetahs failed as a unit
A lack of defensive intensity in the first 40 minutes cost the Cheetahs any chance of victory against a Reds team low on confidence after the hammering against the Waratahs, writes MARK KEOHANE.
What we’ve learned
Five lessons from this weekend's Vodacom Super Rugby matches, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.