Heyneke Meyer is confident that Japan-based lock Andries Bekker will be back in Springbok colours in the lead-up to the World Cup. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Meyer has selected an extended World Cup training squad in preparation for this year’s World Cup. The group first came together at a training camp in Johannesburg at the beginning of May. This week, they have reconvened for a camp in Cape Town, and the fringe players in particular will be looking to make an impression on the Bok coaching staff.
That said, there are several key players who are yet to link up with the Boks in the buildup to their all-important 2015 Test season. Players based in the United Kingdom, Ireland and France will have to wait until their club commitments have been fulfilled. And then there is one special player who plies his trade in Japan who is yet to confirm his availability.
On Monday, Meyer revealed that Bekker, the 29-Test lock, is on the brink of returning from the international wilderness to play a key role in the Boks’ 2015 World Cup campaign. If all goes well over the next few days, the Boks will have another excellent option at No 5 lock.
It would be a timely coup for this South African side, given the only experienced option available is Victor Matfield. There's still some doubt whether Pieter-Steph du Toit, a supremely talented young player who has been spoken about as Matfield’s successor, will recover from injury in time to feature at the global tournament.
Bekker played under Meyer in 2012, before taking up a lucrative contract at the Kobelco Steelers in Japan. At the time, Bekker said he wasn’t available for Bok selection, although the big lock did hope that the move to the less physically demanding Top League in Japan would extend his playing career.
But now that the World Cup is around the corner, and now that the Boks are in dire need of a specialist No 5, it seems likely Bekker will return to the South African fold.
‘A guy like Andries will probably be in the mix,’ said Meyer. ‘Only the players based in South Africa have been involved in the camps, but I will look at every single player who is available. You have to pick the best to take to the World Cup.
‘I’m going to have a one-on-one meeting with Andries tomorrow. I think there’s a good chance he will be available [for the Boks and the World Cup].’
Flip van der Merwe wasn’t included when the training squads were first announced in late April. However, it’s believed that whatever issue compromised his availability has been resolved. Meyer said he would speak to the Vodacom Bulls enforcer, who can play on both sides of the second row, over the next few days.
Unfortunately, at this point there's still no clarity over the availability over Frans Steyn. The Boks and Sharks centre hasn’t played a Test since September 2012, and declared earlier this year that he didn’t expect to return to the Boks in time for the World Cup.
On Monday, Meyer lamented the Steyn situation. It’s clear the Bok coach feels that Steyn, a World Cup winner in 2007, could be an asset to the Boks in 2015.
‘It’s a pity Frans has had so many injuries, and that he’s not available,’ Meyer said. ‘He’s had a tough season. I truly believe he is a world-class player.’
Meanwhile, Meyer has decided to cancel the final field session of the training camp to give the players a break before this weekend’s penultimate round of Vodacom Super Rugby. The camp will conclude with an off-field session on Wednesday morning instead of the planned field session.
The following players did not take full part in training on Monday: Frans Malherbe, Scarra Ntubeni, Siya Kolisi, Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe, Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts, Beast Mtawarira, Faf de Klerk, Coenie Oosthuizen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jean de Villiers, Vincent Koch, Warren Whiteley, Michael Rhodes, Willie le Roux, Jean Deysel, Ruan Botha, Kobus van Wyk, Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Oupa Mohoje, Lood de Jager and Heinrich Brüssow.