Heyneke Meyer has much to ponder before announcing his 31-man World Cup squad on Friday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Several senior players are still struggling with injuries. Duane Vermeulen is likely to go to the World Cup, but may only make his return to the playing field later in the tournament. Meyer cannot afford to take too many of these partially fit players to the tournament. The Bok coach will hope that his preferred skipper, Jean de Villiers, makes a full recovery from a jaw injury in the next few weeks. If De Villiers’s return is pushed back to the second or third game of the pool stage, Meyer will have to back a second- or even third-choice captain. This will influence the initial selection of the 31-man group. Schalk Burger showed in the recent Rugby Championship that he can lead the side when both De Villiers and Victor Matfield are absent.
Last week, World Cup winner Percy Montgomery told SA Rugbymag.co.za that experienced players are essential at global tournaments. That said, Meyer should be looking to strike the right balance between seasoned veterans and exciting youngsters. The World Cup is a tournament that spans six weeks and potentially seven matches. It's likely that the Boks will suffer further injury setbacks during that period. Meyer needs to select a group that can cope with the rate of attrition, that can maintain the right balance between experience and youth from the first pool game right through to a possible final. Montgomery said last week that it’s important to have the right balance in certain combinations so that the youngster benefits from playing alongside the veteran. The Boks won't win a World Cup final with 15 youngsters on the park.
There’s bound to be some disappointment when a few talented and exciting players miss the 31-man cut. Meyer needs to consider which players have the skills, as well as the mettle, to excel in the northern hemisphere. The Boks will play several of their pool matches on football fields that are conducive to a high-paced game. However, they are likely to play all of their knockout games at Twickenham, a ground that is traditionally heavy underfoot and demands a shift towards more direct and conservative tactics. Meyer must select forwards capable of winning the set pieces and dominating the battle at the gainline. Halfbacks who can win the territorial battle must be preferred to those who lack a strong kicking game.
South African rugby has failed to transform sufficiently at Currie Cup and Super Rugby level over the past four years, and yet, there is growing pressure on the national coach to include more players of colour. Meyer is expected to include nine players of colour in his 31-man World Cup squad.
Injury can strike at the least opportune moment, either during a game or in the lead-up to a crunch play-off match. There isn’t enough room in a 31-man squad for three specialists in each position. Players who can contribute in two or even three different positions will be invaluable to the team cause.
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