Cape Town – The Springboks are likely to keep their faith, as the top wing pairing, in stalwarts Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen at RWC 2015 ... if so, the third tournament in a row at which they will be deemed the foremost duo.
The now 32-year-old Habana and his long-time ally Pietersen, 29, seem on course for that rare distinction a few weeks out from the latest World Cup, even if the latter has been rehabilitating from a hamstring injury and last started for the Boks in the Castle Rugby Championship opener against Australia in Brisbane, when the visitors frittered away a promising platform to go down 24-20 at the death.
South Africa’s incumbents in the wide positions are actually Habana and Lwazi Mvovo, who played effectively and incisively together in the get-even victory over Argentina recently, at least raising the possibility that the “old firm” may be broken up as Mvovo was a timely revelation in Buenos Aires.
He wore the No 14 shirt but operated on the left, including scoring a creative try, whilst Habana made the effortless switch - as he has commonly enough before - to the other side where he also got on the try sheet.
Despite their productive day on that occasion, a fully-fit Pietersen arguably still holds the aces for a first-XV presence in bigger RWC clashes based on his considerable street wisdom and reassuring physical proportions that outdo those of Mvovo.
That said, it has been more than a couple of years since Pietersen played at anything near his known peak for X-factor so at very worst Mvovo will be breathing down his neck and is massively likely now to be on the plane to London himself.
Also in the current pre-RWC camp remains Cornal Hendricks, the now Stormers-bound flier who was a favourite of Meyer’s during 2014, when he won all his first 11 Test caps, but has only added one more appearance this year – the loss against the All Blacks in Johannesburg.
He is hardly lacking as a try-sniffer, but tends to go a little anonymous for generous periods during matches and may be only the “fourth” wing to travel - if Meyer does indeed go for a squad quartet.
Hendricks may be endangered by the versatility on offer from the likes of midfielders Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel, although the last-named player’s near-nightmare at No 14 against Argentina in Durban means he is unlikely to get time in the wide channel at the World Cup.
Fullback Willie le Roux, as mentioned in our earlier examination of stocks at No 15, can also be switched to either of the wing berths, especially if he shows any erratic defensive tendencies in the “last man” role during the early stages of the tournament.
It is unlikely now that any Currie Cup participants will have time to do enough to force very late alterations to Meyer’s thinking, although Francois Hougaard perhaps has an outside chance of jumping on the bus as a scrumhalf who can double as a wing, and in Johannesburg and Cape Town respectively there are people ruing the non-recognition of the likes of the Lions’ Ruan Combrinck and ever-slippery WP back-three man Cheslin Kolbe.
Boks’ wing depth rating ahead of RWC 2015: 6.5/10 (I would have liked to have gone higher, but bear in mind that both probable first-choice wings are slightly past their halcyon days.)
*Wings in last RWC squad (2011): Habana, Pietersen, Odwa Ndungane, Gio Aplon (versatile), Francois Hougaard (versatile). The first-named two were coach Peter de Villiers’s first-choicers from start to finish of the tournament, although there were pool-phase opportunities for others in between and scrumhalf Hougaard is well remembered for his face-saving try as a wing substitute in the opener against Wales, eked out 17-16.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
Boks' RWC health: Fullbacks