Meyer’s big call in midfield

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has some tough decisions to make regarding his centres and the backline group as a whole, writes JON CARDINELLI.

Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel have become fan favourites following their performances in the 2015 Rugby Championship and one-off Test against Argentina in Buenos Aires. They started as a combination on three of the four occasions, and certainly lent some potency to the Boks' attacking effort.

However, what some forget is that the Boks lost two of those three matches. The inexperience of the individuals as well as that of the combination was exposed on defence.

It would be a brave call to back that combination at the World Cup, a tournament where defence and experience are paramount. It's also worth noting that neither De Allende (seven caps overall) nor Kriel (four) have started a Test in the northern hemisphere before.

Which is not to say they shouldn't go to England as part of the 31-man squad. De Allende may thrive alongside a more experienced centre partner. Kriel could be a key man when deployed from the bench later in a game. And in terms of the squad make-up, Kriel's ability to play 13 and 15 should be seen as a plus.

At this stage, there is still doubt over the availability of Meyer's more experienced centre options. It was hoped that 2007 World Cup winner Jaque Fourie would return to Test rugby after a two-year absence, but those plans have fallen through. It was anticipated that another World Cup winner in Frans Steyn would return in the two Tests against Argentina, but he pulled out of the squad following the death of his brother. Bok captain Jean de Villiers made a successful return from a serious knee injury, only to fracture his jaw in his comeback Test against Argentina in Durban.

De Villiers proved as recently as last year that, when fit, he can be an influential player and leader for the Boks. Meyer is hoping that De Villiers recovers to form a crucial part of the World Cup squad.

The big call may be around Steyn. He hasn't played for the Boks in the lead-up to this World Cup, and that is a concern. That said, Steyn is a player who offers a unique skill set, one that could be extremely valuable in northern hemisphere conditions.

All the talk at the 2011 World Cup was about Steyn's ability to sink penalty goals from 60m out, and how that threat forced opponents of the Boks to revise their game plans and strategies. A fit and firing Frans Steyn will offer the Boks the same sort of value at the 2015 World Cup. Goal-kicking will be even more important in conditions that prohibit fast-paced and high-scoring contests.

The 31-man World Cup squad will be announced on Friday. There are plenty of rumours doing the rounds about selection, and one of those suggests that Steyn could be one of the most notable omissions.

It is possible for Meyer to accommodate all four of those players (De Allende, Kriel, De Villiers and Steyn) in his final squad of 31. Of course, that would force Meyer to cut down in other departments.

Willie le Roux will go to England as South Africa's premier fullback. Pat Lambie has proved himself as a flyhalf, but also has the ability to cover at 15. If Kriel and Steyn are in the group, they offer further options on the wing and at fullback.

In that scenario, someone like Zane Kirchner or Lwazi Mvovo will miss out on selection. But again, Meyer will find it difficult to make that decision considering he is under pressure to include more players of colour in the group of 31.

Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix

Post by