Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer should raise a few eyebrows with his selections – and omissions – at the unveiling of the 31-man World Cup squad on Friday, writes JON CARDINELLI in Durban.
The big day has finally arrived. At 6pm, four years of speculation will come to an end.
Meyer will confirm the names of the 31 players traveling to the World Cup in England. There’s bound to be a reaction. Much will be said for and against the selection of those 31 individuals. Perhaps even more will be said, written and tweeted about the unlucky ones who miss out.
Over the past week, a previously blurred selection picture has come into focus. Meyer will select a strong squad for the global tournament, but a few key players will remain behind in South Africa. Interestingly, all of those who have been injury concerns in recent months are now likely to make the cut.
Jean de Villiers will travel to England as the team’s skipper and premier centre. No surprise there. So too will No 8 Duane Vermeulen and scrumhalf Fourie du Preez. Again, this is no surprise given the pair’s importance in the context of Meyer’s game plan.
The probable addition of Coenie Oosthuizen to the group is significant. Earlier this week, Bok scrum coach Pieter de Villiers said that Meyer is likely to take five props to England instead of six. What this suggests is that the fifth prop will fulfil a utility role, covering at both loosehead and tighthead.
The big question is which of Oosthuizen or Trevor Nyakane has been earmarked for the swing prop position? Oosthuizen impressed at tighthead on the 2014 tour to Europe, and has excelled at No 1 for the Cheetahs in recent times. If he is truly over his neck injury, Oosthuizen can offer value as a utility player.
Meyer has been under pressure to select more players of colour. It shouldn’t be the responsibility of the national coach to transform South African rugby, and yet Meyer has been set a target of nine players in the final squad of 31.
Whether he meets that target is another story. Meyer is expected to pick scrumhalf Rudy Paige ahead of Cobus Reinach, and flanker Siya Kolisi ahead of Heinrich Brüssow. Zane Kirchner will be included while a World Cup winner like Frans Steyn is set to remain behind. And yet Meyer may only take eight players of colour to England.
Paige has a great kicking game, and Meyer erred in not giving the Vodacom Blue Bulls No 9 a chance in recent matches. Paige is a player who has the potential to aid South Africa in northern hemisphere conditions, more so than the attack-minded Reinach.
Whether Kolisi and Kirchner deserve to go ahead of Brüssow and Steyn respectively is another story. The Boks will need a specialist opensider to play understudy to Francois Louw. Steyn has played some excellent Tests at fullback in the past (think the 2009 British & Irish Lions series and subsequent Tri-Nations). He is better utilised at centre these days, and has a long-range goal-kicking game that sets him apart from most players.
Another big selection by Meyer could be in the second row. Taking the five-cap Pieter-Steph du Toit to the World Cup is risky enough, but Meyer looks set to pick another relatively inexperienced player in Lood de Jager in a lock group that includes Victor Matfield and Eben Etzebeth.
Finally, it seems as if Meyer will take a good blend of youth and experience to the tournament in England. As many as 17 players will be featuring at their first World Cup. Then there are the veterans, namely Matfield and Schalk Burger (set for a fourth World Cup), and De Villiers, Du Preez, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis and Ruan Pienaar (at their third global tournament) who will add value.
Probable Springbok World Cup squad:
Hookers: Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Schalk Brits.
Props: Beast Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Jannie du Plessis, Frans Malherbe, Coenie Oosthuizen.
Locks: Victor Matfield, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Pieter-Steph du Toit.
Loose forwards: Francois Louw, Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi, Schalk Burger.
Scrumhalves: Fourie du Preez, Ruan Pienaar, Rudy Paige.
Flyhalves: Handré Pollard, Pat Lambie, Morné Steyn.
Centres: Jean de Villiers, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel.
Outside backs: Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen, Willie le Roux, Lwazi Mvovo, Zane Kirchner.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images