Heyneke Meyer has picked a squad that can win all four Tests this November and simultaneously build towards the 2015 World Cup, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Speaking at the Springbok training camp last week, vice-captain Victor Matfield said that Meyer wasn’t the type to give Test caps away for the sake of it. Matfield followed up that statement with another, insisting that the buildup to the 2015 World Cup will officially start when the Boks tackle Ireland in Dublin on 8 November.
Meyer’s Boks will feel confident about maintaining their 100% record in the northern hemisphere this November. They will also want to tick a few boxes related to performance and player development.
Meyer has selected 36 players for the four-game sojourn, although it’s likely that more than 36 players will be considered over the course of the next month. Meyer has explored a number of options over the past three seasons, and recently invited a host of new players to the national training camp in Stellenbosch.
The Bok coach has made it clear that whomever is on the radar needs to experience the national side’s training methods and team culture sooner rather than later. These fringe players need to be ready should they be called up at a later stage, possibly even in the coming weeks.
We’re well into the 10th month of the South African rugby season. This is the point where so many elite athletes break down. Most won’t survive to see the end of the four-Test tour, and in this respect, Meyer is fortunate that the two most demanding games are scheduled for the first two weeks.
The Boks will miss the likes of Francois Louw and Willem Alberts in the back row, but have some capable alternatives in Schalk Burger, Marcell Coetzee and Teboho Mohoje. Duane Vermeulen has played a lot of rugby this season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a break after the Test at Twickenham.
That third fixture against Italy will provide Meyer with an opportunity to play those who have not featured much over this past year. It should also allow the Bok coach to see what a few of the newcomers can do at Test level.
The overseas-based players will not be available for the final Test of the tour against Wales on 29 November, as the game falls outside the IRB's international window. This will force Meyer to back a number of second and third-choice players, and again, by that point of the tour, the Boks may also be dealing with several injury setbacks.
Some of the players who were involved in the recent Currie Cup final have been brought into the Bok touring group. This decision is not based on the performances in the domestic competition, but rather the showings in the preceding Super Rugby tournament.
Nizaam Carr did a fine job for the Stormers at No 6 this season, and has maintained that level of performance throughout the year. Carr, Seabelo Senatla and Jaco Kriel will add value to this touring group, especially during the later fixtures against Italy and Wales.
The problem position for South African rugby at the moment is tighthead prop. Marcel van der Merwe’s season-ending injury in the Currie Cup semi-final was untimely, as it means the Boks will travel to Europe without an experienced alternative to Jannie du Plessis.
Coenie Ooshuizen has battled to establish himself at No 3, and while Julian Redelinghuys deserves this opportunity after a strong Super Rugby competition and Currie Cup, he will have his work cut out for him against some of the best looseheads in the world. Meyer will hope that these players stand up in the coming weeks to become genuine options ahead of the 2015 World Cup.
In the backs, Johan Goosen's selection should not come as a surprise. Goosen has started to find form with this club, Racing Métro, and will add value to the Boks this November as a utility back. The player who made his Test debut at flyhalf in 2012 may well be asked to play No 15 this November.
The group Meyer has selected for the coming tour is a strong one and should ensure that the Boks realise their goals over the next four weeks. They will be expected to score some big wins, and to develop their depth.
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