De Villiers plots RWC defence
Witbank - Hardly a media conference goes by that there isn't some reference to next year's World Cup in New Zealand by Springbok coach Peter de Villiers or even the players who are interviewed separately afterwards - and if one thing is clear, it is that De Villiers' planning is in place for the defence of the World Cup.
Everyone may not agree with what that planning entails, and the combinations and options he has in mind might not have the approval of all critics - nor the fact that the team taking the field is not necessarily South Africa's best.
"We realise that," is the coach's reply. "I know that every time the side loses, whoever plays in it, it is a loss for the Springboks, not a defeat for a side that many see as weakened.
"But we are working towards a goal," he said before - and after - the Test against Wales.
Such are the riches in players at his command at the moment that no team selected can really be called weak, albeit not the best available. The way in which the teams have been mixed with senior players/stars combining with youngsters makes for a rather formidable side every time - something it wouldn't be if the De Villiers had decided to play a straight B-side.
Asked why lock Flip van der Merwe, one of the season's greatest successes, wasn't given another run on the bench against Italy on Saturday after being yellow-carded five minutes after coming on which ended his debut, De Villiers explained that they were grooming Alistair Hargreaves as a No 5 lock. "He has to learn from Victor (Matfield)," he said - the inference being that Van der Merwe, in playing and training with the three Test veterans Matfield, Danie Rossouw and Bakkies Botha at the Bulls, is getting the necessary mentoring.
De Villiers also preferred to go with Ricky Januarie at scrumhalf rather than Ruan Pienaar as it would give him a feeling of confidence to get more regular playing time - and the knowledge that there is a belief in his ability will make him a better player.
Flyhalf Morne Steyn will probably be rested for next weekend's second Test against Italy in East London and Victor Matfield, depending on the fitness of John Smit, will most likely also get a break. This week Wynand Olivier and Danie Rossouw are being rested.
De Villiers also wants to give Butch James a run at flyhalf against Italy and Pienaar will probably play the whole of the second half on Saturday as scrumhalf.
And who knows, Gio Aplon could move to fullback to give Bjorn Basson his second cap on the wing while Juan de Jongh will come on as centre when James moves to flyhalf.
At the Springbok team announcement on Tuesday when Schalk Burger still seemed confident of being fit for the Test on Saturday, De Villiers intimated that he wanted the veteran flanker to play in order to see how Dewald Potgieter would fit in with Burger and another experienced campaigner, Potgieter's Bulls team mate Pierre Spies.
"We're looking at combinations," De Villiers said then - and now has two rather similar players at flank who unfortunately will not be free to play their own game as No 7s.
In another attempt to leave no stone unturned with a view to the World Cup, the Springbok medical team and its regional counterparts have met to plan the management of the country's senior players in the lead-up to the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
The meeting of medical and conditioning teams from Springboks and the five Vodacom Super 14 regions - including doctors, physiotherapists and fitness conditioners - met with the approval of De Villiers who addressed them at the meeting in Cape Town.
"I am now reassured that our players are in safe hands, both nationally and within their regions," De Villiers said afterwards.