The return of several stalwarts will provide the Springboks with the balance and experience they've been lacking, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Boks have thrilled and frustrated in equal measure over the past two weeks. They've produced some powerful showings at the scrums and breakdowns. The improved decision-making on the fly as well as an intent to run from deep has transformed them into an unpredictable and dangerous attacking side.
And yet, for all of that innovation and newfound sense of adventure, they've lost two from two in the Rugby Championship. Clearly there is something missing, both in terms of personnel and tactics.
While they remain the second-best side on the planet, they're some way off challenging the All Blacks for first place. The difference in conditioning between the Boks and the All Blacks was patent at Ellis Park. Over the past two weeks, the dearth of experience in some starting positions, and on the bench, has also cost the Boks dearly.
The Bok side that started against the All Blacks featured just eight first-choice players. Had the likes of Victor Matfield, Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen, Fourie du Preez, Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie and JP Pietersen all been available, the Boks would have played with more balance and composure.
Add a couple more seasoned players to the match-day 23, such as Frans Steyn and Morné Steyn, and you have an imposing lineup that can beat any side in the world.
To clarify, the Boks shouldn't discard every tactical ploy or selection that has been utilised in recent matches. They will certainly need a dash of youth and flair in their World Cup mixture.
The big question, of course, is how much. Given the magnitude of the global tournament, and the fact that northern hemisphere conditions are not as conducive to the helter-skelter playing style witnessed in Brisbane and Johannesburg recently, experience, defence, and strong tactical kicking should be priorities.
Steve Hansen made an interesting comment in the buildup to last week's match. The All Blacks coach marvelled at South Africa's 10-12-13 combination, as well as their fullback. But after praising Handré Pollard, Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel, he qualified his statement by saying the trio represented the future of South African rugby, rather than their strongest combination at present.
While these players have brought a new attacking dimension to the Boks, they have, as a combination, proved susceptible on defence. Pollard, De Allende and Kriel may well represent the future, but it would be a gamble to play all three in a combination at the coming World Cup.
Heyneke Meyer is mindful of the formula that has worked at previous World Cups. Veterans can complement youngsters, and vice versa. Think about a 20-year-old Frans Steyn playing alongside the vastly experienced Butch James at the 2007 tournament, or a 23-year-old Sam Whitelock partnering the 36-year-old Brad Thorn in the second row in 2011. There are numerous other examples.
It seems likely that Meyer will back Pollard in that key position of No 10 at the World Cup, despite the 21-year-old's erratic goal- and tactical-kicking performances over the past few months. The feeling is that Pollard has come a long way over the past 14 months as the chief organiser of the Bok attack.
Don't be surprised if the Bok coach looks to offset Pollard's shortcomings by selecting two strong tacticians on either side of him. These players should have more experience as well as the ability to enhance the team's efficiency in areas such as tactical kicking and defence.
Indeed, the very presence of a Du Preez, a De Villiers, or a Frans Steyn may alleviate the pressure on Pollard, and may aid his improvement. The inclusion of veterans such as Fourie, Pietersen and Bryan Habana in a backline also gives the Boks a more solid look on defence.
On the flip side, players such as Pollard, Willie le Roux, and perhaps De Allende or Kriel from the bench will lend the Boks attacking impetus. The Boks need to go to the World Cup with a game plan that gives them options.
Photo: Luke Walker/Gallo Images