‘Experience a must at RWC’

Percy Montgomery says the spike in pressure at any World Cup tournament prescribes the selection of more senior players, JON CARDINELLI reports.

On 28 August, Heyneke Meyer will reveal his 31-man World Cup squad. That group should include a number of decorated veterans, players who have won big tournaments and series and been in pressure situations before.

Of course, at a World Cup tournament, the stakes are even higher. It takes special players, and indeed a special group of players, to rise above the unique pressure associated with the knockout stages.

Montgomery played 102 Tests for South Africa. He featured at two World Cups, scoring 105 points in the latter tournament in France and ultimately guiding the Boks to the title. As the team's goal-kicker at the 2007 World Cup, he knows what it takes to overcome that pressure.

'Coaches tend to alter their selection policies when these World Cup tournaments come around,' Montgomery told SARugbymag.co.za. 'They pick players who are going to stand up to scrutiny, who have the BMT.

'That's why you often see the top coaches picking more senior players, players who have either been at a previous World Cup tournament or in those pressure situations before.

'Don't get me wrong, you need some youth in the squad, but when the pressure is on, the youngsters are going to be looking to those senior players to guide them.'

The class of 2007 certainly boasted a good balance between experienced heads and gifted youngsters. The senior core included Montgomery, captain John Smit, veteran prop Os du Randt and Victor Matfield. At the time of the 2007 World Cup final, Frans Steyn was 20 and JP Pietersen 21. Both were competing in just their second season of Test rugby.

Meyer will be striving for a similar sort of balance at the 2015 global tournament. If fit, one would expect Test centurions such as Matfield, Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers, as well as veterans with 50 more or Test caps (Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Fourie du Preez and Pietersen to name a few) to form part of the senior core. Then there is the younger and less experienced contingent comprising Eben Etzebeth, Handré Pollard, Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel. They will provide a different sort of energy.

The Boks lost all three of their Rugby Championship Tests this year, and have dropped to fifth in the world rankings. Some have taken this as a bad sign ahead of the World Cup in England.

Montgomery, however, feels the Boks can still win the global tournament.

'Definitely. I don't think you can ever write the Boks off. They showed in the Test against Argentina in Buenos Aires what they can do when their passion and ability are in perfect alignment.

'I've heard that they're not the favourites to win the World Cup, but perhaps that is a good thing. They will go into that tournament under the radar. They may surprise a few teams.'

Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images

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