Fringe Boks lacking game time

Fringe players in the Springboks' World Cup squad should be getting game time in the Currie Cup, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day

Let's be clear about one thing — the Springboks will have the nation’s support once they get to the World Cup. That’s a given, but in the weeks leading up to the World Cup squad announcement there will be difference, debate and an appreciation for the talents of the players in the Currie Cup that will cause many people to believe those dominating the domestic scene should be going to the World Cup.

The Currie Cup is a feeder tournament and the only purpose it should be serving for coach Heyneke Meyer’s World Cup preparation is game time for the 16 squad members not in his preferred starting XV.

The All Blacks coaching staff released 17 of their 41 players to play in the New Zealand Cup, with some playing in the last available fixture until the team departs for London. Players on the fringe, those recovering from injury and those needing game time to build confidence have all been given a schedule.

Israel Dagg, as one example, played for Hawke’s Bay at the weekend and scored three tries. Dagg, a World Cup winner in 2011, is a player who has struggled with injury during the Vodacom Super Rugby season and enjoyed decent hit-outs with the All Blacks, without ever being dominant.

The New Zealand selectors felt he could only be sharper and more confident if he played in the New Zealand domestic competition. Other players, who featured regularly in the match 23, but won’t be in the tournament’s initial run-on XV, have also been released to their provinces.

I think the provincial coaches and Bok coach Heyneke Meyer should have come to a similar agreement because so many of the Bok fringe players are going to be short of game time at the World Cup. There are some that would hardly have played any rugby in two to three months when the World Cup starts.

Nothing beats actual game time and while injury is always a risk, so too is someone playing a game in a must-win match who hasn’t experienced competitive rugby for an extended period of time.

If only there were little more certainty about the Springbok World Cup squad composition. Currently there is an extended list of injured players who may or may not make the 31 August cut-off.

There is hope that captain Jean de Villiers will recover from a broken jaw. There is hope Marcell Coetzee’s knee will respond to rehabilitation. Ditto veteran scrumhalf Fourie du Preez and No 8 Duane Vermeulen, who has not played since undergoing a neck operation in June.

These are players whose Bok selection ordinarily would not be questioned. But there is no certainty and more hope than conviction.

Then there’s the issue of transformation and despite Saru president Regan Hoskins being quoted as saying Meyer will get to pick the squad he wants, there are too many mixed signals among the administration, the politicians and even from within the squad leadership.

Siya Kolisi and Lionel Mapoe, as just two examples, have hardly played Test rugby this season. Foreign-based duo Schalk Brits and Morné Steyn are also short of game time.

All four are expected to be at the World Cup and all four would be in better mental and match shape if they were playing rugby in the next fortnight. It hasn’t happened and all the talk is of the Bok conditioning and fitness programme in Durban.

The situation allows too much speculation and that can never be good for the unity of a squad. It’s not a healthy situation and if there were certainty about who was in and who was out, it would allow supporters to agree to disagree and simply unite behind the squad tasked with the challenge of winning the World Cup.

Meyer, in the past month, has experienced his most pressured and tortured time as Bok coach. He is under pressure with poor results, injuries and criticism about a lack of black player game time among the biggest talking points.

Opinion on the Bok coach is divided and Meyer’s predecessor Peter de Villiers has found his voice among those damning of Meyer. De Villiers will feel he was done no favours in 2011, but his critique must be measured against a failed World Cup campaign, in which his side lost in the quarter-finals.

The leading World Cup candidates appear to be in a state of calm. Not so the South African public — and nothing suggests a change of environment in the next week.

Jon Cardinelli's 31-man Springbok squad 

Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix