Fringe players needed exposure

Heyneke Meyer's conservative selections for the Italy Test make a mockery of taking a 36-man squad on tour, writes MARK KEOHANE.

I did expect more Springbok team changes for the challenge of Italy. And I certainly expected captain Jean de Villiers to get a rest.

The European-based players are not available for the Welsh Test, and the argument could be to tap every available minute from this group of players.

But what is the point of playing Bryan Habana against Italy when it represents more potential international exposure for the likes of those younger wing understudies? Take your pick, as the reference is in principle and not player specific.

The same is applicable to the likes of De Villiers and Duane Vermeulen. Again, it is more about exposing the entire squad to some game time on tour.

I could have understood the logic in picking the same team that will conclude the tour against Wales in a week’s time. This would have been a great opportunity to let that combination have a hit out pre the Welsh Test.

Instead, this is a nothing kind of lineup for a Test against the weakest of the Six Nations teams.

Italy have won one game in their last 13 – and that was against a depleted Samoa a fortnight ago.

The Bok management – and Heyneke Meyer in particular – will make a strong argument about not cheapening the Test jersey and about the player earning the right to wear the Test jersey. But I reckon if a player is deemed good enough to be chosen for a tour, then he should be considered good enough to at least be able to start against the weakest tour opposition. If there isn’t trust in a player’s ability to front Italy away from home, then what is the player doing on tour?

Players always give the public relations speak about how much value there is in touring and how much they have learned in the month away from home, despite not playing a minute. It all sounds wonderful and it is all rehearsed because every player goes on tour wanting to play. No player, regardless of his youthfulness or inexperience, goes on tour to carry tackle bags and be an extended part of management… meaning the closest the player gets to the match-day venue is along with management in the stands.

So many of the fringe players have hardly played rugby in the past four months. These players should have at least been allowed to play in the Currie Cup play-offs. Instead someone like Western Province and Stormers centre Damian de Allende has not played since the away match against Argentina in August. And he missed two months because of injury prior to playing in the Rugby Championship.

Every year a handful of players goes on tour to the northern hemisphere and they never see a minute of game time.

Meyer has justified this in the past as saying the players were selected to be exposed to the Bok culture and that they knew beforehand they were unlikely to be given match time.

Players like De Villiers and Vermeulen, so important to the next year of Bok rugby, could only benefit from a week in the stands or even on the bench as an insurance policy should the mixture of inexperience and fringe players be battling.

I just don’t get the merits of the current match-day squad, given the opposition, and it certainly is a lost opportunity to give those fringe players some form of overseas international exposure.

It is a very conservative selection and the results will be conservative for the Boks.

It also exposes the farce of selecting 36 players for a tour when Meyer – given his approach to selection – won’t use more than 30.

Unfortunately it also again questions the integrity of the tour squad selections and asks if Saru added more to the tour numbers to accommodate the need to show greater black representation.

It is all distasteful. Rather be honest and say a player is not good enough than select a player deemed only good enough to hold tackle bags for a month.

It’s a disappointing selection all-round, given there is a bigger picture to Bok rugby and certainly a bigger picture to the tour than playing the core of the hardened veterans against opposition like Italy.

Springbok team to play Italy

Photo: Gabriel Rossi/Gallo Images