Heyneke Meyer should select the inexperienced players in his Springbok squad for the match against the World XV, writes MARK KEOHANE.
Those in South African rugby and politics who always equate transformation to non-white playing numbers in the national squad will be euphoric with the numbers in Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s Springbok squad. But it is one thing to name a player in a 36-strong squad; it is quite another to play him in a starting XV or in match-day line-up.
This will be the challenge for Meyer in the next month. The warm-up against the World XV at Newlands on Saturday and the Tests against Wales (two) and Scotland respectively will test Meyer’s conservatism and historical philosophy that best plays every time.
Meyer has seldom experimented with the Boks. He has selected his tried and trusted and, outside of four defeats against the All Blacks, has got the reward.
Meyer has in the past two years settled on his best starting XV. It reads: Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen, Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Morné Steyn, Fourie du Preez, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Victor Matfield, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira. Matfield only returned this season after retiring in 2011 but Meyer had always wanted him as his starting No 5 lock option in terms of the World Cup.
Meyer, in his first season, ignored the bulk of the overseas veterans and picked a very young squad. It was his way of building the second tier within his squad. In the next month he has to add to that second tier.
It is why Marnitz Boshoff’s exclusion, as a flyhalf option, was surprising. Boshoff’s game looks ideally suited to Meyer’s style and to the demands of Test rugby. His goal-kicking is also the best among the South African options.
Cheetahs flank Heinrich Brüssow would always be in my squad but Meyer has never been a fan of the Brüssow way and his omission has nothing to do with the player’s performance but rather with a coach’s belief that the player does not fit in with his playing philosophy.
Meyer, in picking 36 players, would have pleased most with his selections. Now he has to give those second-tier players match opportunities.
Injuries to De Villiers and Fourie will ensure he selects a new midfield and he has plenty of options in the Stormers duo of Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh. He can play Frans Steyn at No 12 and he also has the option of playing Jan Serfontein and S'bura Sithole at No 12 and 13 respectively. There is exciting cover in the midfield. It is the least of Meyer’s concerns.
Lock cover is also good. Bakkies Botha offers depth, as does Flip van der Merwe. And Pieter Steph du Toit will return later in the year.
The flyhalf position remains the most topical and the most influential. Frans Steyn has done a job for the Sharks but his franchise coach Jake White believes his best position is inside centre. Johan Goosen has been hit and miss and Morné Steyn’s first season at Stade Français in Paris has been underwhelming. Morné Steyn, Meyer’s go-to man at the Bulls and Boks, was not in the starting XV for much of the French club season and was even relieved of his goal-kicking duties when he did play. Meyer may want to play Morné Steyn into form or simply trust the history of the player.
The World XV should offer some entertainment but they won’t offer much resistance to the Boks. Nick Mallett is in charge of the squad, but he will only have one training session with his players and a captain’s walk through on Friday.
This is an ideal opportunity for Meyer to play most of the internationally inexperienced players as a starting option and to load his bench with an insurance policy of hardened veterans.
Meyer, in explaining his squad selections, was effusive in his praise for Cornal Hendricks, De Allende, Sithole, lock Lood de Jager, hooker Callie Visagie and flank Teboho Mohoje. Now let’s see if he actually entrusts them with game time against a Welsh squad missing several frontline players and a bunch of Scots who would struggle to win a match in the Vodacom Cup.
Meyer won’t again easily face two squads as weak as that which tours South Africa this month.
His approach, in selection, will be an indicator of the substance to his press release description of the playing qualities of the new caps.
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