Meyer flies straight into storm
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
Cape Town – At the very least, we have just learnt that Heyneke Meyer
will be staunchly his own man, whatever the eventual length of his
tenure clutching the Springbok chalice.
His maiden, 32-strong
squad selection for the three-Test series against England could
certainly be branded as brave in many respects – others are already
inclined toward more emotive language -- and of course he has an
excellent case for saying “please guys, judge me after my team has
played a bit of rugby”.
But I, for one, also get a powerful sense
that overly provocative elements, if you like, mark the coach’s choice
-- potentially putting him rather too firmly on the back foot straight
away with significant sections of the rugby-loving public in this
If early sentiment is used as some kind of barometer,
Meyer is already under slightly self-imposed pressure for his team to
boogie in a big way ... or else.
That is the price he may have to
pay, and the demands he will have to try to meet, for a squad that puts
him on a well nigh confrontational public footing, arguably in several
The first revolves around his conspicuously strong
emphasis on players from the Bulls, the franchise where he has spent the
bulk of his time – even granted that he remains a relatively young
coach -- developing his reputation as an ace rugby strategist and
Presumably he went a long way to closing his selection
book even before kick-off in the Loftus-based team’s derby against the
Stormers on Saturday night, an eminently sensible approach in so many
Let’s face it, this date has loomed as “difficult” ever
since it became known that it would, far from ideally, immediately
precede the first Test in Durban a week later.
thorough and industrious Meyer will have ticked or crossed many
individual boxes over the course of 15 weeks of Super Rugby activity,
far more than he would have been swayed by one particular encounter.
the naked, awkward fact remains that minutes before his squad was
revealed, the SA conference-leading team (the Stormers) which features a
flimsy three names among the 32, had just beaten the Bulls, in their
own backyard, and for the second time in the season.
representation, or lack thereof, stuck out like the proverbial sore
thumb, then having as many as 13 Bulls players in the mix – including
some who have been reasonably peripheral within their own camp – will
only have inflamed further the inevitable, emotional carping across the
north-south provincial divide in South Africa.
probably argue with some justification that he has been given uniquely,
absurdly little time to “gel” a team for a strenuous series, straight
off many weeks of potentially debilitating Super Rugby and that, under
the circumstances, placing a strong emphasis on players who best know
his philosophy and systems is the best way of guaranteeing a successful
series outcome against the English.
Who knows, maybe there will
be sweeping alterations to his broad squad in time for the next
challenge, the new-look Rugby Championship southern hemisphere
competition, for which there is generally better preparatory time.
to be kept in mind is that several potential candidates from the
Stormers ranks are currently out of action: these include prime figures
like Schalk Burger, Duane Vermeulen, Andries Bekker and Joe Pietersen,
though the latter is thought to only be a short-term casualty and could
have cracked the nod on the same basis that someone like Bulls
blind-sider Jacques Potgieter did, despite several weeks out of action
Yet the fact remains that certain players now have
advantageous feet in the national door, to the detriment of several
probably more deserving others.
That brings us to an area where Meyer is also going to raise unavoidable eyebrows: commitment to transformation.
best, his first statement on this front is an unremarkable one, with
eight players of colour getting the nod; exactly a quarter of the squad.
I am not quite as fussed as others yet by Siya Kolisi only cracking a
gig as a non-squad extra to be involved in pre-England training plans.
impressive Stormers flank played comfortably his best match of the
season in the derby “steal” for his side on Saturday, maybe just a tad
too late to cause Meyer to make use of an eraser in the loose forward
But with time on his side, Kolisi will get there – it may even be as swiftly as the next tasks beginning for the Boks in August.
Much closer to infuriating, I suggest, is how the claims of Gio Aplon, in particular, could be overlooked.
Stormers’ utility back-three customer has done absolutely nothing to
deserve demotion from Bok plans, and has the kind of natural X-factor
rather too lacking in several others to have herded through the backline
If his only “crime” is not to tip the scales to the level
Meyer seeks, Aplon has never lacked heart, commitment or courage and is,
after all, part of a Stormers system with extraordinary proficiency in
defence. (Are you going to try to tell us that JJ Engelbrecht, for all
his superior height and physique, is a more competent tackler?).
cold-shouldering will do nothing to stave off a suspicion that South
Africa, once again, plan a largely crude, blunt-instrument approach to
winning Test matches.
Regarding the captaincy, I suppose
Meyer can hardly be blamed for veteran scrumhalf Fourie du Preez
reportedly having a late rethink and telling him he doesn’t feel quite
up to the required demands of Test rugby at present, though all this
still smacks of unwelcome lateness in its occurrence.
But naming a
first squad still without a dedicated leader is also an unorthodox
move: you would have thought that when the players assemble, an
immediate plus would be for them to be able to reverently brand someone
Let’s hope Meyer doesn’t delay in doing the right
thing: entrusting the task to Jean de Villiers, who produced both a
personal performance and leadership of great character at Loftus on
Saturday after being on a sick bed for most of the lead-up week.
ought not to lose sight of a couple of points: there are some
thoroughly worthy, future-geared selections, like Marcell Coetzee, Eben
Etzebeth and Coenie Oosthuizen -- plus proof in the shape of Keegan
Daniel that you don’t automatically have to be a forward behemoth to
wiggle into Meyer’s favour.
Oh, and the Boks haven’t lost on his watch just yet.
I am nevertheless among those left with a lingering thought that he
might have done himself a favour by choosing a first-up squad that was a
bit more middle-of-the-road and less divisive on regional and other
grounds ... *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing