Cape Town - A potential midfield headache looms for Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.
Despite South Africa losing their last two Rugby Championship Tests, the midfield combination of Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel has been a shining light for the Boks in defeats against Australia and New Zealand.
Kriel scored a try in each Test, while De Allende has been a massive physical presence - something Meyer values highly.
The duo gave old All Black maestros Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith plenty of bother in last Saturday’s Test in Johannesburg, and Meyer will find it hard to find a spot when skipper Jean de Villiers returns to the team.
De Villiers is slowly making his way back from a horrific knee injury sustained against Wales late last year.
He again featured for Western Province in their pre-Currie Cup friendly clash against the EP Kings in Port Elizabeth at the weekend, and according to WP coach John Dodson things went well, with the player getting a full 80 minutes of action.
“He was insistent on playing 80,” Dobson said on Monday. “He said he would have played flank if he had to. He went to the wing (in the final quarter) and what he was really chuffed about was that he could accelerate."
Dobson added that he expected De Villiers to get some game time for the Boks against Argentina in Durban next weekend.
Barring any further injury hiccups, De Villiers now looks set to be fit for the Rugby World Cup later this year which means Meyer would have to find a spot for him in the starting team.
Assuming Meyer still wants De Villiers as his captain for the World Cup, the Bok mentor would have to drop - or shift - either Kriel or De Allende to make way for his skipper.
But does he really want to drop them after they showed so much promise in their first three outings together (World XV game included)?
De Villiers no doubt offers a lot from a leadership and experience perspective, but can he be as effective as a player to match what De Allende and Kriel have done over the past few weeks?
It’s preferable for the captain to be as close as possible to the "action", which means inside centre De Allende would probably have to make way.
There’s also the possibility of shifting De Allende to outside centre alongside De Villiers, while Kriel probably wouldn’t be a terrible option at wing.
Kriel played fullback for the Bulls in this year’s Super Rugby competition, but it’s hard to see Meyer now dropping Willie le Roux to make space for Kriel there, despite Le Roux’s current defensive frailties.
It’s a healthy situation to be in, considering the talent at Meyer’s disposal, but a fit De Villiers at this year’s Rugby World Cup would certainly leave the Bok coach with much to ponder...