JON CARDINELLI picks a 31-man Bok squad that can excel in northern hemisphere conditions and potentially win the 2015 World Cup.
The 2015 Rugby Championship is a thing of the past, as is the one-off Test against Argentina in Buenos Aires. On 28 August, Heyneke Meyer will confirm his World Cup squad, and thereby reveal his hand for the upcoming global tournament in England.
Injuries could influence Meyer’s choices. Even at this late stage, there are doubts over the fitness of captain Jean de Villiers, as well as senior players Fourie du Preez and Duane Vermeulen.
The Boks have yet to confirm whether Frans Steyn will be available for selection. The veteran centre was recently granted bereavement leave following the sudden death of his brother.
If all of the above are fit and available, they should travel to the World Cup in England. Experience is a must at these tournaments. And in a competition staged in northern hemisphere conditions, the Boks will certainly need the tactical intelligence of De Villiers and Du Preez, the physicality of Vermeulen and the long-range kicking boot of Steyn.
Turnover specialists will also be key at this tournament, be it at the breakdown or the lineout. The Boks would do well to include two specialist openside flankers in their group of 31, namely Francois Louw, who plays his club rugby in England, and the inimitable Heinrich Brüssow.
In terms of the set piece, Victor Matfield has the ability to force turnovers at the lineout. Pieter-Steph du Toit may be the Boks’ next best lineout exponent in this regard.
Handré Pollard and Pat Lambie are certain to travel with the squad to England, but Meyer would do well to include a third flyhalf in Morné Steyn. Goal-kicking and game management will come under scrutiny, especially in the knockout stage.
What should also encourage this selection is Steyn’s recent record in Europe for French side Stade Français. Steyn scored 58 points for the Parisian outfit over the course of the 2014-15 play-offs, a tally that helped Stade claim the Top 14 title.
Meyer will have some tough decisions to make over the next few days. It could be that he is pressed to select Siya Kolisi ahead of Brüssow and Elton Jantjies ahead of Morné Steyn, due to political pressure.
However, Meyer would be better served taking the following 31-man group to England (17 forwards and 14 backs):
There shouldn’t be many surprises here. Bismarck du Plessis and Adriaan Strauss have been the best in the business for some time. Schalk Brits brings something different to the mix. The Saracens hooker’s knowledge of local conditions should benefit the Boks.
Beast Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis pick themselves. Trevor Nyakane, Frans Malherbe and Marcel van der Merwe may not be as experienced, but are the best South Africa have in reserve considering Coenie Oosthuizen’s inhibiting neck ailment. Heinke van der Merwe would be a great addition to the squad, considering how well he did for Top 14 champions Stade Français this past season.
Eben Etzebeth has been playing some great rugby of late, and the Boks will certainly need his abrasive attitude in a tournament of this nature. The lineouts will take on greater importance in northern hemisphere conditions, and the Boks don’t have a better set-piece manager or individual jumper than Victor Matfield. Pieter-Steph du Toit is believed to be a worthy understudy, though, and may shade the likes of Lood de Jager and Flip van der Merwe for a squad place.
LOOSE FORWARDS (5)
Francois Louw boasts an intimate knowledge of how the breakdown is approached and refereed in that part of the world, and will be a key figure. Heinrich Brüssow is the only South African player who can provide a like-for-like alternative to Louw. The recent losses to Australia, New Zealand and Argentina have highlighted the need for superior ball carriers such as Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen, and Meyer will surely include both in his final squad. Schalk Burger is a terrific alternative at blindside or No 8, as he offers similar skills and even more experience.
Fourie du Preez is yet to play a Test this season, but has shown in the past just how important he is to the Bok game plan on attack and as a tactical kicker. Ruan Pienaar has shown on previous tours to Europe and over the past few seasons for Ulster that he is a better player in the slower, weather-afflicted conditions of the northern hemisphere. While Rudy Paige is yet to play a Test, he showed in the recent Super Rugby competition why he is the right player for a tournament in these conditions. Paige has the skill set to be a success.
Handré Pollard offers something different on attack, while Morné Steyn is the go-to guy as a goal-kicker and game manager. Pat Lambie showed at Twickenham last November that he can also be counted on to play the percentages. Lambie would add further value in this squad as a fullback option.
The Boks really need Jean de Villiers and Frans Steyn for this tournament. Jaque Fourie has already ruled himself out, and so the Boks cannot afford to lose any more experience in that midfield department. De Villiers’s value as a leader is well documented. Steyn’s ground-gaining darts at the gainline and long-range attempts on goal invade the very psyche of an opponent. Damian de Allende could provide cover for Steyn in the No 12 position. Jesse Kriel could play understudy to De Villiers at No 13, and offer further options at wing and fullback.
OUTSIDE BACKS (4)
Both Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen offer the complete package as far as experience, skill under the high ball and finishing are concerned. Lwazi Mvovo showed against Argentina what a lethal finisher he can be when provided with space. Fullback Willie le Roux is another dangerous attacking player, and proved he can play a more tactical game on the 2013 tour to Europe.
Photo: Duif du Toit/Gallo Images