The experience of South African players based at overseas clubs will aid the Springboks in their quest for the World Cup title. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Boks will conclude their second and final training camp in Cape Town on Wednesday. The two training camps have presented the coaching staff with an opportunity to work with a number of fringe players and establish a pecking order from first to fourth choice in each of the 15 positions.
Meyer feels this is necessary given the high attrition rate of a World Cup tournament that spans seven weeks. Indeed, the players who start in the first World Cup game on 19 September may not make it all the way to the final on 31 October. Injuries are going to occur, and the Boks need to be able to cope.
Of course, the Boks have been without some key personnel at the recent training camps. Many of the players based overseas were not available due to club commitments. This does not mean they won’t play an important role in the coming Rugby Championship, and at the World Cup itself.
Many South African players speak about their time at an overseas club as a journey of discovery. Almost all of them say the opportunity to work with players and coaches from different countries and cultures aids their development.
Meyer has often spoken about the importance of the players based at European clubs. The 2015 World Cup will be staged in England, and so players based in that part of the world will have the advantage as far as an understanding of local conditions is concerned. Fortunately for the Boks, there are a fair number of players who fall into this category.
Meyer has watched the European competitions with interest, and has noted exactly who has been effective in wet conditions, and who has adapted to the northern hemisphere style of play.
‘A lot of them are in form, and a lot of them have played for us before,’ Meyer said. ‘They know the conditions, which is always a great help.
‘Unfortunately, they can only link up with us in the week leading up to the first game [against the World XV at Newlands on 11 July]. That’s the difficulty with them. It’s also the end of their season, so they need to have a break before they start playing Tests. I will have to look at the fitness levels when they come into the mix.’
Bryan Habana, Ruan Pienaar, Morné Steyn and Francois Louw are no longer based in South Africa, but have featured prominently for Meyer’s Boks over the past three seasons. One would expect all four of these players to make the 31-man World Cup squad, fitness permitting.
Meyer will certainly have a big overseas contingent from which to choose. Presumably, he will consider players who have been involved with the Boks over the past three years. The likes of Bakkies Botha and Gurthrö Steenkamp, two stalwarts plying their trade in France, have both retired from international rugby, but there are still plenty of options abroad.
Zane Kirchner has played 15 Tests under Meyer, and his good form for Leinster and more recently for the Barbarians will not have gone unnoticed. Johan Goosen made his mark on last year’s tour to Europe, and can play several positions.
Juandré Kruger is another who is currently playing for Racing Métro, but one should remember he played 16 Tests for the Boks over the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Hooker Schalk Brits hasn’t enjoyed as much game time, but has been a regular feature in Meyer’s squads since late 2012. Fourie du Preez is based in Japan rather than Europe, but he will have a key role to play at the World Cup.
Meyer hasn’t been afraid to experiment during his tenure, be it with players from South Africa or abroad. Seven players, who are now based overseas, have played six or fewer Tests for the Boks between 2012 and 2014 (Pat Cilliers, Andries Bekker, Jaque Fourie, Wynand Olivier, Heinke van der Merwe, Jacques Potgieter and Juan Smith).
If one is to look at the players who have already represented Meyer's Boks and who could be considered for the World Cup, and form a hypothetical Overseas Bok XV, it will look something like this:
Hypothetical Overseas Springbok XV – 15 Zane Kirchner (Leinster, Ireland), 14 Johan Goosen (Racing Métro, France), 13 Jaque Fourie (Kobelco Steelers, Japan), 12 Wynand Olivier (Montpellier, France), 11 Bryan Habana (Toulon, France), 10 Morné Steyn (Stade Français, France), 9 Fourie du Preez (Suntory Sungoliath, Japan), 8 Juan Smith (Toulon, France), 7 Jacques Potgieter (Wararahs, Australia), 6 Francois Louw (Bath, England), 5 Andries Bekker (Kobelco Steelers, Japan), 4 Juandré Kruger (Racing Métro), 3 Pat Cilliers (Montpellier, France), 2 Schalk Brits (Saracens, England), 1 Heinke van der Merwe (Stade Français, France).
Photo: Bertrand Longois/AFP Photo