Heyneke Meyer believes the uncapped Rudy Paige has the skill set to be a success at a World Cup staged in difficult northern hemisphere conditions, reports JON CARDINELLI in Durban.
On Friday, the 31-man World Cup squad was announced at the Boks’ base of operations in Umhlanga. As expected, the majority of that group comprised a clutch of tried and trusted veterans as well as several dazzling youngsters who have featured prominently for the national side over the past four years.
What did surprise, was the selection of several fringe players who will go to the World Cup as either the second or third choice in their position. Paige, who is yet to play a Test, was favoured ahead of Cobus Reinach for the third scrumhalf berth. Siya Kolisi will play understudy to first-choice openside flanker Francois Louw, a selection that sees breakdown extraordinaire Heinrich Brüssow missing out.
Meyer and his selectors have been under pressure to select more players of colour, and the squad that travels to England will feature eight such players in the group of 31. On Friday, Meyer moved to dispel suggestions that these selections have been made purely with transformation targets in mind.
The Bok coach feels that Paige has the potential to be an asset in northern hemisphere conditions. Meyer said that he’s always had a plan for Paige, and reminded the press that he wanted to use him on the 2014 tour to Europe. An injury robbed Paige of his chance to play in the last game of the tour against Wales at Cardiff.
‘When Rudy first came into the group, I told him that he had a chance to go to the World Cup,’ said Meyer. ‘I wanted him to work on a few things, and it’s been great to see how he has improved over the past year, both in his performances for the Bulls at Super Rugby level and in camp with the Boks.
‘His service from the base is good, and he has an unbelievable kicking game in wet conditions, which we will need at the World Cup,’ continued Meyer. ‘I see him as a similar player to Fourie du Preez. It was a tough decision between Rudy and Cobus, but I believe it is the right one. I also believe it’s a good balance [in the scrumhalf group] if you consider the experience of Du Preez and Ruan Pienaar.’
The question was asked why Meyer didn’t back Paige at an earlier stage, and whether it was a risk to blood the player at a World Cup. Meyer certainly had the opportunity to do so in the 2015 Rugby Championship, and the one-off Test against Argentina in Buenos Aires.
The Bok coach admitted that the pressure of losing all three matches in that tournament, and especially the latter game to Argentina in Durban, influenced his selections for the subsequent game against the Pumas in Buenos Aires.
‘It was always my plan to give Rudy game time in Buenos Aires, but then we let ourselves down against Argentina in Durban,’ said Meyer. ‘I said to the players that the same group would have a chance to set things right the following week in Buenos Aires.’
With regard to the loose-forward mix, Meyer said that the balance of the forwards group as a whole influenced the decision to back Kolisi ahead of Brüssow.
‘We are well covered at openside with Francois Louw, Siya and Schalk Burger in the mix,’ said Meyer. ‘I’ve always said I want to see Siya specialising there. Also, you have to take into account that with Duane Vermeulen now fit and available, and Bismarck du Plessis in the side, we have other fetchers in the team. Duane and Bismarck steal a lot of ball at the breakdown. That really helped the decision to pick Siya, as well as what he can offer at the lineout.
‘Heinrich has played brilliantly this year, he really proved me wrong,’ said Meyer, who didn’t select Brüssow in the first three years of his tenure. ‘But I can only take 31 players to the World Cup. I wish I could take seven loose forwards to the World Cup.
‘Heinrich and Marcell Coetzee [who should recover from a knee injury over the next few weeks] will be on standby, so there is a chance that they could still feature at the World Cup,’ Meyer added. ‘They could yet make an impact.’
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