Cape Town - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer may have invited a squad of 36 to the National training camp in Durban this Sunday, but how many of those will survive when the final Bok group is named at the end of the month?
According to the supersport.com website, while there has been rewards for players who have impressed in this year’s Super Rugby competition, the poor performance of the majority of South African franchises, and Meyer’s assertion that the best team must always be selected for the Springboks may mean a tried and tested combination takes the field in the June tests rather than new talent.
It isn’t a new thing for the current Springbok management. Last season they had an opportunity to blood several new players against Scotland, Samoa and Italy and used only the opportunity for a few, with Meyer being unfairly criticised by some.
What the Springbok squad announcement does do, is give the Bok coach a chance to see those who have performed in this year’s tournament close up, to have conversations with them and to hear their rugby philosophies.
But for a player to come straight into the match 23 there will have to be a genuine injury concern, or a huge impression will have to have been made.
Being an incumbent in the current Bok set-up is key and Meyer values the consistency of selection and experience in the test arena.
Meyer is judged on his record as Bok coach, compared to others and constantly scrutinised for his choices, and when you look at the depth he currently has at his disposal, it is difficult to see just where a number of changes could be made to include new talent.
Looking at the squad that played last year, very few of those players are likely to be dropped barring injury.
With the news that Eben Etzebeth and Jaque Fourie may not be available for the start of the test season – and in Fourie’s case the entire season – two spots have opened up to be taken but such is the depth that it is unlikely these will be filled by new players.
More likely is that with the attrition rate in both Super Rugby and test matches, some of these fringe players may be needed in the Rugby Championship, as we could see quite a few high profile injuries by then.
Considering that a squad of 36 contains none of the ten European based players, as well as some who are on the injured list, almost half of the squad named on Monday could be whittled away by the time the first test match comes on June 7 against the World XV.
Meyer is also one who likes momentum, so you can expect the Boks to name a strong side to ensure they get a good start to the international season.
And if you look at the incumbents, very few have done anything wrong to be dropped out of the squad.
Willie le Roux remains the form player for fullback, and despite again being used on the wing by the Cheetahs has stated publicly he sees his future at 15 for the Boks.
Japanese based JP Pietersen and Toulon flyer Bryan Habana are still without peer while Jean de Villiers will take the captaincy again. Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar are the likely halfbacks and Morne Steyn has done little wrong to warrant exclusion.
Given this backline scenario, Frans Steyn should return while in the back three Lwazi Mvovo’s performances at 15 should get him the nod with either Bjorn Basson or Cornal Hendricks filling the other spot.
If Damian de Allende is to be given a spot in the midfield, it would mean that either Jan Serfontein, JJ Engelbrecht or Juan de Jongh would have to be left out while Johan Goosen is likely to get the other spot at 10.
The third scrumhalf and hooker in the squad – if there is to be one – will always be a local player, with Francois Hougaard named in the group while only two hookers were named on Monday.
With Scarra Ntubeni injured, the Stormers hooker is the likely third hooker for the international season as well.
Meyer is also not likely to tinker with the success of the loose trio – barring injury – so Willem Alberts, Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen will be there.
Schalk Burger’s experience makes him a likely candidate and with Marcell Coetzee and Siya Kolisi in the squad over the last year, they certainly have an advantage over Teboho Mohoje, Jacques du Plessis and Heinrich Brussow and it would be a surprise if Meyer turns his back Coetzee or Kolisi.
Victor Matfield is likely to take his spot at five, while Flip van der Merwe is the obvious choice at four.
If Etzebeth is injured for long, then Bakkies Botha may well be a short-term option to fill the gap alongside Lood de Jager, unless Meyer opts for an extra loose forward like Du Plessis that can cover lock as well.
The incumbent front row of Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira are unlikely to change, and with Adriaan Strauss and Coenie Oosthuizen set to return, the only real question is who the back-up loosehead would be.
Frans Malherbe was picked last year but depending on what he has in his arsenal, and if he has forgiven him, Meyer may opt for Trevor Nyakane again or the wildcard of Marcel van der Merwe, although since Van der Merwe has only started two games this season, that is probably unlikely.
The 36-man Springbok training squad is:
Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Trevor Nyakane (Cheetahs), Marcel van der Merwe (Bulls)*, Jannie du Plessis (Sharks), Frans Malherbe (Stormers), Coenie Oosthuizen (Cheetahs), Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks), Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs), Eben Etzebeth (Stormers), Lood de Jager (Cheetahs)*, Victor Matfield (Bulls), Flip van der Merwe (Bulls), Heinrich Brüssow (Cheetahs), Marcell Coetzee (Sharks), Siya Kolisi (Stormers), Willem Alberts (Sharks), Jacques du Plessis (Bulls)*, Teboho Mohoje (Cheetahs)*, Duane Vermeulen (Stormers), Schalk Burger (Stormers)
Fourie du Preez (Suntory, Japan), Francois Hougaard (Bulls), Johan Goosen (Cheetahs), Marnitz Boshoff (Lions)*, Jean de Villiers (Stormers), Damian De Allende (Stormers)*, Jan Serfontein (Bulls), Juan de Jongh (Stormers), JJ Engelbrecht (Bulls), S’bura Sithole (Sharks)*, Frans Steyn (Sharks), Lwazi Mvovo (Sharks), Bjorn Basson (Bulls), JP Pietersen (Sharks), Cornal Hendricks (Cheetahs)*, Willie le Roux (Cheetahs)
* - Uncapped at Test level