Overseas stars key to Bok cause

The Springboks based abroad remain a cut above the majority of South Africans competing in the Vodacom Super Rugby competition, writes JON CARDINELLI.

Meyer should consider himself fortunate that he is permitted to select players based abroad. Indeed, over the past few years, it's become increasingly evident that certain individuals who compete at the highest level in Europe, the United Kingdom, and even Japan, have no rival back here in South Africa.

Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar are the best scrumhalves avaliable to Meyer, and are based at Suntory Sungoliath (Japan) and Ulster (Ireland) respectively. No South African scrumhalf competing in the Super Rugby competition has challenged that pecking order over the past few seasons, and it seems likely that these veterans will travel to the 2015 World Cup.

Du Preez has already linked up with the Boks in Durban for a training camp, while Pienaar and several others based at overseas clubs will join the squad in the coming weeks. It's interesting to note who is returning to the Bok fold, and once again, how important these overseas-based players will be in terms of leadership and team dynamics.

Du Preez's return to the Boks in 2013 was signficant and, by all accounts, allowed the Boks to move up a gear. On the tour to Europe, it was Bakkies Botha (Toulon), JP Pietersen (Panasonic Wild Knights), and Jaque Fourie (Kobelco Steelers) who further bolstered the group and helped secure victories in Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Paris.

Prior to that tour, Meyer had explained the selections of Du Preez, Pietersen, and Fourie, stating that he felt these players were still among the best in the world in their respective positions. It was a big statement to make, although it's been made clear over the subsequent months of Super Rugby that there aren't any superior options here in South Africa.

The same is true of the openside flank position. This past Friday, Francois Louw returned from injury to play for Bath in the European Challenge Cup final. Bath went down to Northampton, but it was more important in the South African context that Louw played. He is a key player for the Boks, and won't be easy to replace should he succumb to injury again.

In 2013, Marcell Coetzee and Siya Kolisi were Louw's understudies. Much has been made about their improvements over the past 12 months, particularly at the breakdown. In 2014, however, Kolisi has battled with injury and has failed to progress at the Stormers. Coetzee has been effective for the Sharks, but is still yet to establish himself as an out-and-out fetcher.

Louw is more important than ever. He was recalled by Meyer in 2012, and had an immediate impact at the breakdown in the Rugby Championship matches against New Zealand and Australia. His influence as an individual and as a leader has been patent ever since.

The one player who could possibly replace Louw should the need arise is Heinrich Brüssow. Meyer has included the Cheetahs flanker in his training squad, which is a step in the right direction. He is the only other No 6 flanker in South Africa in the same class as Louw, or indeed All Blacks opensider Richie McCaw.

The outstanding players in the 2014 Super Rugby tournament have been those who already hold key positions at the Boks. Jean de Villiers has been one of the best, as has Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, and Bismarck du Plessis.

Few youngsters have made their case for a starting spot. In fact, it's been a season for comebacks, with veterans such as Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger, and Frans Steyn looking the hungriest and most deserving of Test opportunities.

Flyhalf Johan Goosen is an important player for the future, but Meyer's decision to stick with Morné Steyn as a starter will be made easier by Goosen's erratic Super Rugby form.

Steyn hasn't enjoyed a good time of late at Stade Français, but his Test experience as well as his fine performances throughout the 2013 season should see him retaining the flyhalf position for the Boks.

With Goosen misfiring for the Cheetahs, and Pat Lambie ruled out with injury, the France-based pivot is Meyer's best option at No 10.

Photo: Barry Aldworth/Backpagepix

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Jon Cardinelli