Heyneke’s Eng task worsens
Cape Town – Nobody ever thought the situation would be ideal
anyway, but the stakes only getting higher on the Super Rugby derby between the
Bulls and Stormers at Loftus deepens the selection dilemma for Springbok coach
Heyneke Meyer.GALLERY: Past weekend in pictures
It is Meyer’s utterly unenviable job to cobble together a
first national side of his tenure and try to make it fresh, well-oiled and
competitive just one week on from the June 2 showdown between the great
north-south rivals which, as things stand, looks like having a really serious
bearing on who might eventually top the SA conference.
To only compound
matters, England, with their 42-strong squad, will be beneficiaries of notably
better mental and physical preparation for the first Test in Durban on June 9.
(Just for another thing, it probably suits their purposes quite nicely that
they begin the three-Test challenge at the coast and then only play one
Highveld international on the tour.)
That country’s major domestic competition, the Aviva
Premiership, is done and dusted save for the final at Twickenham on May 26.
That means the slog is already over for the majority of
England’s travelling party, who can rest up for a while and contemplate the
Eighteen players in the England squad chosen (nine each)
come from Leicester and Harlequins, the two sides contesting the showpiece –
but they now have a week’s “bye” ahead of that game and then the entire tour
party will also know that there is no game to play on the Saturday between the
Premiership final and the first Test at Mr Price Kings Park.
There is also, conveniently for England coach Stuart
Lancaster, no English interest in this Saturday’s Heineken Cup final, also at
Twickers, an all-Irish affair between Leinster and Ulster.
Back in South Africa, however, the pre-series scenario is
not nearly so “pretty”.
Under normal circumstances, players from the high-riding
Bulls and Stormers might well be expected to monopolise places in Meyer’s
maiden Bok team.
But the coach may be seriously considering whether that sort
of emphasis would really be the right course of action, given the likely toll
the derby will take on both bodies and minds.
It is Stormers players, especially, who will be vulnerable
to fatigue even at the outset of the Test season, as the previous weekend will
also have seen them play an away conference crunch against a Sharks side
suddenly right back in the playoffs frame themselves and thus no more likely
now to be prepared to “rotate” any core players in the national interest.
Nor will any likely Bulls Boks be particularly more
sprightly ahead of the first Test. When they host the Stormers the weekend
before it, it will be just having done the long haul back from their four-match
overseas programme, which finishes with taxing New Zealand dates against the
Highlanders and Chiefs respectively.
Meyer has already warned prospective Boks that they will
simply have to handle the scheduling card they have been dealt, with hunger to
represent the country an automatic tool, but he will also know deep down that
optimal physical prowess simply cannot always match mental keenness.
So there is certainly an unusual case for the national
side’s mastermind to have to at least consider the near unthinkable ...
resisting calling up too many players from the two teams to have most consistently
carried the South African flag with aplomb in Super Rugby.
Yes, there are players from other franchises and a few
quality overseas-based names for him to think about, but in the latter case
some of those candidates may, by stark contrast, be undercooked for game-time.
He has also got to be very careful -- bearing in mind the special
pressures involved in being scrutinised in his first Test as coach -- not to
put out a side lacking in familiarity of combinations or sporting almost too
much of a “Barbarians” look against an England side not renowned for great
X-factor at present but an eternally tough nut all the same.
I just sense that some domestic critics are a little too
cavalier in suggesting that a 3-0 outcome in the Boks’ favour is a bit of a fait
accompli: personally, I would be more confident viewing the series that way if
the best Bok players had some proper rest ahead of the series plus at least one
tune-up Test against an obviously softer foe.
Meyer’s boots are not the best to be in at present, whatever
the honour attached to his appointment to the hot seat ...
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