Boks start to have ‘RWC’ feel
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - At roughly the midway mark between World Cups, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer appears to be increasingly nailing down his primary personnel for the England-hosted 2015 spectacle.
Meyer has always said he wants to stack up as much prior Test experience as possible for exciting younger members of his squad, while simultaneously showing an obvious appetite for the value of already highly-proven individuals with much to offer in the pressured environment of RWC combat.
The match-day squad he revealed on Wednesday for Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener against Argentina at FNB Stadium – coming about two years and one month ahead of World Cup 2015 – seems to straddle both goals.
His starting XV is as predicted on Sport24 earlier this week, demonstrating a pleasing faith in continuity and reward for the players who looked so vibrant and committed in the eight-try thrashing of Samoa (a team capable of giving any opponent on the planet a rocky ride when the mood grabs them) at Loftus last time out.
After a fair bit of chopping and changing for experimental purposes during his first season in charge last year, Meyer is looking more and more Jake White-like now for settling stoically on certain combinations well ahead of a World Cup – a formula that later paid famous dividends in 2007, of course.
The pack, for instance, is showing very pleasing signs of developing 'old firms' in the various positions: the two frontline Sharks props, Beast Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis, the lock combination of Eben Etzebeth and Juandré Kruger, and the loose trio of Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and fit-again Duane Vermeulen are getting more and more familiar with each other in terms of varying needs and playing styles.
And even as the admirable Adriaan Strauss holds onto the starting hooker’s berth for the time being, it is reassuring – perhaps to all but that player himself! – that breathing down his neck once more is a certain, 48-cap Bismarck du Plessis on the bench.
On the question of substitutes, clearly the Boks plan no mercy on the Pumas if they have managed to build a strong initial head of steam on Saturday and want to land knockout blows in the final quarter at unforgiving high-altitude – crusty old previous World Cup campaigners Fourie du Preez and Gürthro Steenkamp are back and doubtless champing at the bit to provide much second-half oomph if summoned to the fray.
But there is clever balance to the reserves, as well: in the probable event that ring-rusty Vermeulen won’t quite be ready at this stage to see out a full 80 minutes at No 8, the 22-year-old Siya Kolisi is deservedly primed to provide fresh legs on the side of the scrum (Alberts will almost certainly shift to the back from the blindside) and earn a third cap as a result.
The Argentineans may get to see a bit more than they would ideally like of another Young Turk in the Bok ranks, the inside centre Jan Serfontein, who is doing a good job so far of making his little cameo appearances from among the substitutes count.
Of course people urging continuation of the more up-tempo South African playing style often evident thus far in 2013, will be delighted by the news that game-breaking specialist Willie le Roux retains his fullback berth for the first match of the Boks’ toughest phase of the year on paper – it hints that he is in the mix for a longer haul, after initial thoughts he might be sidelined for Zane Kirchner’s more formulaic style in the Championship.
In a wholly unchanged backline from the Samoa clash, much attention will be focussed not only incumbent Ruan Pienaar’s performance at scrumhalf, but also the possible entry of Du Preez at some point after the halftime: has the now slightly balding talisman still got his known world-class touch?
On the whole, this match-day selection is likely to go down as one of the most universally well-received in the country since Meyer took the reins, you would think.
It is a pretty formidable outfit, even when you consider that distinguished overseas-based acts like JP Pietersen, Jaque Fourie and Bakkies Botha could enhance the brew even more as World Cup planning becomes more and more of a factor.
Don’t rule out their infusion at some point, of course ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing