The Europe-based Springboks will be influential in the lead-up to the World Cup, and at the tournament itself, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Boks' World Cup squad will arrive in England on 12 September. They will have a week to acclimatise to the local conditions and prepare for their first Pool B clash against Japan at the Brighton Community Stadium on 19 September.
Thereafter, the Boks will face Samoa at Villa Park, Scotland at St James' Park and the USA at the Olympic Stadium. Heyneke Meyer has mentioned the fact that the majority of these pool clashes will be staged at football stadiums, and that the pitch should allow for a high-tempo game.
However, the Boks would do well to remember that all their play-off clashes (three should they advance to the final) are likely to be staged at Twickenham during the month of October. The turf at that venue is heavier underfoot. The weather in England could also take a turn for the worse in mid-to-late October, which should prescribe a more tactical and conservative approach.
Knowledge of the conditions, as well as how the laws are refereed in this part of the world, will be crucial. Eleven of the players in Meyer's squad have played 50 Tests or more, and have been exposed to the trials of playing in the northern hemisphere over the years. Those who currently play their club rugby in this region could be even more important.
Meyer has included six players who play in Europe's club competitions. Schalk Brits (Saracens) and Francois Louw (Bath) have been celebrated as two of the best players in the English league. Bryan Habana (Toulon) has won two European Cup titles and a domestic trophy with his French club, while Morné Steyn recently guided Stade Français to a rare Top 14 success. While Ruan Pienaar (Ulster) and Zane Kirchner (Leinster) seldom receive their due in South African rugby circles, their exploits in Europe have earned them praise from the Irish public and critics.
Add to that list Victor Matfield, who spent a season with Toulon in 2007-08, as well as the Bok captain Jean de Villiers, who played for Munster in 2009-10. Matfield and De Villiers will understand the difficulty of playing in those conditions, and what sort of approach is required for success.
It will be interesting to see who Meyer selects in the big pool matches and in the play-offs. The Bok coach will have some tough calls to make, but it wouldn't surprise to see the majority of this Europe-based contingent in that match-day 23.
Hooker Bismarck du Plessis has found some form after a disappointing Vodacom Super Rugby tournament and deserves his starting position. Adriaan Strauss failed to impress in the 2015 regional competition, and will be under pressure to keep his place in the Boks' match-day squad at the World Cup.
Brits proved in the Test against Argentina in Buenos Aires that he can offer the Boks a dynamic option from the bench. In his capacity as a key player for Saracens over the past five years, Brits has shown an ability to switch between a conservative and expansive game. His knowledge of the conditions and the northern hemisphere referees will also give the Boks an edge.
Strauss will travel to England as Meyer's second-choice hooker. His showings in the pool stages, however, will determine whether he retains a position in the match-day squad in the play-offs. Strauss has a point to prove.
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