Meyer’s play-off quandary

Heyneke Meyer faces a few selection posers ahead of a Test that could be the last for several Springbok stalwarts, writes JON CARDINELLI in London.

What do the head coaches of South Africa and New Zealand think of the idea to stage a third-place play-off? On Saturday, Meyer said it was a meaningless event. Steve Hansen described the match as a punishment for losing the semi-final.

Thanks to their 20-18 win at Twickenham, the All Blacks have avoided that particular torture. The Boks, however, will need to pick themselves up for a one-off against Argentina.

It will be interesting to see how Meyer approaches this fixture. Will he select all the older players who are unlikely to feature beyond this campaign, or will he pick a side with the future in mind?

Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez and Schalk Burger are expected to call time on their respective Test careers after the tournament. The ageing group of Jannie du Plessis, Schalk Brits, Morné Steyn, Ruan Pienaar and Bryan Habana could be surplus to requirements in 2016.

It wouldn’t surprise to see Meyer backing a number of youngsters in this fixture. Handré Pollard, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth and Frans Malherbe all featured prominently in the 2015 World Cup campaign. These players, all younger than 25, will have an important role to play going forward.

Several fringe players should also get game time. Siya Kolisi and Trevor Nyakane will be part of the future side, as will Pieter-Steph du Toit. While Rudy Paige is not strictly a youngster at the age of 26, he may prove the ideal successor to Du Preez in the coming years.

With Jean de Villiers, Matfield, Burger and Du Preez no longer in the picture, the Boks will need a new captain. Duane Vermeulen has been touted to fill the void. Meyer himself is a fan of the idea. Pollard is another who could be handed the captain’s armband before too long.

Of course, the Boks still have something to play for in the coming fixture. South Africa have never lost three matches at a World Cup tournament before. The Boks will also want to avoid another defeat to Argentina. They went down to the Pumas 37-25 in Durban two months ago.

In the end, Meyer may opt for a blend of the two sides shown below. One can’t see the likes of Du Preez or Burger missing out completely, especially after all they’ve done for the team both on and off the field at this particular tournament.

It would be cruel to drop Habana at this point. Two weeks ago Habana scored three tries against the USA to equal Jonah Lomu’s record for the most World Cup tries. Afterwards, Meyer said it would be great for a South African to own that record outright. Habana should have an opportunity to do so when he lines up against Argentina at the Olympic Stadium on Friday.

Sentimental selection – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez (c), 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.

Planning-ahead selection – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Francois Louw, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Fourie du Preez, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.

Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

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Jon Cardinelli