JON CARDINELLI looks at three areas of strength and three of concern in the buildup to the Springboks’ 2015 World Cup campaign.
The World Cup is nearly here. In 30 days, Heyneke Meyer will name his 31-man squad for the tournament. In 52 days, the Boks will play their first pool match against Japan in Brighton.
While South Africa have ticked a few boxes already, there's still a lot of work to be done over the next seven weeks. SARugbymag.co.za takes a look at where the Boks stand.
AREAS OF STRENGTH
The Boks have evolved their attacking game over the past two seasons. The inspired selections of attack-minded players like Willie le Roux, Handré Pollard, and most recently Jesse Kriel have made a notable difference. That said, there's been a change in mindset across the board, with all players looking to explore the counter-attacking option.
The Boks’ improvement on the counter-attack is directly related to their improvement at the breakdown. With Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Louw, and Duane Vermeulen in tow, they’ve effected some crucial defensive steals in their own 22. Those turnovers have also proved the source of some thrilling counter-attacking movements and tries.
Experience counts a great deal at World Cups. The Boks are likely to have three Test centurions in Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, and Victor Matfield at their disposal. Then there are those who have played more than 50 times for South Africa. Schalk Burger, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Fourie du Preez, Jaque Fourie, Beast Mtawarira, Ruan Pienaar, JP Pietersen, Frans Steyn and Morné Steyn should all be in the mix.
POINTS OF CONCERN
Heyneke Meyer said at the start of the year that the Boks’ fitness levels were a concern, and requested that the elite players be managed by the respective franchises with the World Cup in mind. Meyer’s request was, for the most part, ignored. The Bok coaching staff are now tasked with whipping the squad into shape before they depart for England. Sources have told this website that the players should be up to the desired standard before the tournament commences. However, if the recent game against the All Blacks is anything to go by, they have a lot of work to do in a short space of time.
While the Boks have thrilled on the counter-attack, they’ve struggled to win field position and control the big matches. Youngsters such as Pollard appear particularly susceptible in wet conditions. It's hoped the return of Fourie du Preez, and possibly even Frans Steyn, will boost the Boks in areas such as tactical kicking. As was seen in the most recent outing against the All Blacks at Ellis Park, the kick-chase and aerial contest require work.
Lood de Jager was outstanding in last week’s game against the All Blacks. However, he's still in the early stages of his development as a No 5, and it’s worth noting that the world’s form lineout lock, Sam Whitelock, only entered the fray in the second half. The Boks will need two specialist lineout managers at the coming World Cup, namely Victor Matfield and a competent back-up. Flip van der Merwe joined the squad in the lead-up to the Test against New Zealand, but it’s believed that Pieter-Steph du Toit will go to the World Cup as the second No 5 option. If that's the case, Du Toit needs to prove that he's over his knee injury in the coming games, and that he has what it takes to manage the lineout at the World Cup.
Photo: Scott Heavey/Getty Images