Meyer backs Bok veterans

Heyneke Meyer defended his decision to include a number of veteran players saying South African rugby supporters 'move on' too quickly, reports RYAN VREDE.

The Springboks announced a 36-man squad for the incoming tour Tests, and while there was very little to speak about by way of surprises, the inclusion of second row senior statesmen Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha has elicited widespread lamentation.  

Matfield, who announced he was coming out of retirement at the beginning of 2014, has performed well for the Bulls. At 37, his aptitude for Super Rugby was understandably questioned, but having satisfied Meyer's reservations around this issue, and without any strong competition, he will likely start in the No 5 shirt for the duration of the Test season. Botha (34), fresh off playing a telling hand in Toulon's Top 14 and European Cup double, could partner him as a run-on starter or make an impact off the wood.

This lock combination is the most capped and arguably the best in the game's history. Yet concerns around their age have thrown their selection, and to a lesser extent that of Fourie du Preez and Schalk Burger's, into the spotlight.

Meyer, however, stood resolutely by his decision.  

'I believe in this country everyone wants to move on [too quickly]. And then when those players move on they're superstars in different countries and win trophies,' he said.

'I believe if a guy is still good enough to win trophies and if he is still fit and hungry to play for his country, he'll be picked, irrespective of his age. There are a lot of good youngsters coming through and if you look at the squad, in every position there is a good youngster. But you need a balance. If you look at the sides who've done well in Europe, they're experienced with a good mix of youngsters. A lot of those guys were written off but were a big part of their teams winning trophies. We can't get a new team every year. It's up to them to show they can play at the highest level. There are no guarantees to them. The best players will play.' 

Meyer said No 5 lock was his biggest concern, describing his options there as 'thin'. He also stressed that this season would see them settle on a flyhalf to take them to the World Cup. 

Morne Steyn is expected to be that man, and despite his involvement at French club Stade Francais being stifled this season because of a back injury, Meyer chose to extract the positives from that.

'In a sense its great that Morne didn't get a lot of game time. Bryan Habana was a different player in 2012 after injury and by the end of the year he was SA Rugby Player of the Year. Johan Goosen has been injured, Pat Lambie has been injured. So that doesn't help us. If you want to win a World Cup you have to have a quality 10. [Toulon flyhalf] Jonny Wilkinson showed his value again last night [Saturday] in how he controlled the Top 14 final. Flyhalf is the kingpin of your game. We need to settle on a 10 this year.' 

For some, the exclusion of Lions flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff came as a surprise. However, for those versed in the Meyer way, it was always unlikely that he was going to tick enough boxes to make the cut.  

'Marnitz had a one-on-one with me last week and I said I want him to take more control of matches. I thought he was superb in this regard last night [against the Bulls]. But I can only have a set number of players per position. There's definitely a lot of unlucky guys, but they know where they stand.

'That said, I'm very happy with the guys we have. There's a mixture of guys on form and guys who've performed in the past. You can't, a year before the World Cup, change your squad completely. I don't think it sends out the right message to players.' 

Photo: Duif du Toit/Gallo Images

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Ryan Vrede