Meyer’s midfield headache

The enforced departure of Frans Steyn sees the Springboks short on experienced centres in the lead-up to the World Cup. JON CARDINELLI reports.

Rewind to the beginning of July, when the Boks were in Cape Town and preparing for their first match of the international season. Back then, the midfield situation looked promising.

After fighting his way back from a serious knee injury, Jean de Villiers was named in the match-day squad for the game against the World XV. Heyneke Meyer showed his willingness to experiment by selecting youngsters Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel in the starting midfield. Jaque Fourie was still with the squad at that stage, while Frans Steyn was making progress in recovering from a pectoral injury.

At that point, it seemed as if the Boks might have all five players fit and available for the World Cup. The selection of De Allende and Kriel was seen as inspired, as was the recall of De Villiers, Fourie, and Steyn. The Boks, of course, would need a good blend of experience and youth if they hoped to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.

Four weeks on, and there's reason for concern. While De Allende and Kriel have impressed with their attacking displays against the Wallabies and All Blacks, there's still some uncertainty about the availability of South Africa’s veterans.

De Villiers is set to play in the next two Tests against Argentina. There’s been a lot of talk about his comeback after a nine-month absence from Test rugby, and what he has to prove in terms of his physical conditioning.

And yet, given what transpired on Monday, Meyer may simply be hoping De Villiers makes it through the next two games unscathed. There's a chance De Villiers will be the only experienced midfielder who travels with the Boks to the World Cup.

Following the death of his brother, Steyn has withdrawn from the squad to be with his family. It's not yet known when Steyn will be back in the Bok camp, or whether he will be available for the World Cup. As team manager Ian Schwartz said on Monday, Steyn’s focus will shift to his family at this difficult time. Rugby should be the last thing on his mind.

Steyn was expected to play in the friendly against Argentina in Buenos Aires next week in what would have been his first Test since September 2012. It was hoped he would get some game time before going to the World Cup as one of the Boks’ experienced midfield options.

Ideally, Meyer would have all three veteran centres (De Villiers, Fourie, and Steyn) in that final World Cup squad. Four weeks ago, Fourie was released by the Boks to continue with his conditioning programme in Japan. Meyer said at the time that the door was still open for Fourie, and that he would be recalled if needed. understands that Fourie’s situation hasn’t changed. And yet, given recent events, perhaps it would be best to bring Fourie back into the team environment sooner rather than later.

Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

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Jon Cardinelli