Johannesburg - The announcement on Saturday of the 30-man Springbok squad for the forthcoming Rugby Championship will see coach Heyneke Meyer provide answers to some of the vexing questions related to his halfback options as he plots the way forward to next year’s Rugby World Cup.
The supersport.com website reports, with the 2015 edition of the global rugby showpiece now less than 14 months away, scrumhalf Fourie du Preez is the only player you can take poison on being the first choice in his position when the Boks get to England. It is no secret that Meyer has a massive regard for the Japan-based player, and rightly so, for Du Preez is probably the best scrumhalf in the world right now and has been for some time.
But Du Preez has been ruled out of the Championship through the injury sustained early in the recent Test against Scotland, which means that Meyer has to select a new scrumhalf. Ruan Pienaar is not everyone’s choice after struggling against the World XV, while Francois Hougaard wasn’t great as Du Preez’s replacement against Scotland.
It is likely though that both will be part of the squad announced on Saturday, which leaves one scrumhalf place open. Cobus Reinach has a lot of supporters by virtue of his pace, opportunism and individual brilliance, with his opportunistic try scoring getting the Sharks out of a couple of holes during the recent Super Rugby season.
But while he would be a popular choice, the Sharks scrumhalf was exposed in the play-off games, and you would think that his box kicking in particular may be a good way from where Meyer would want it to be. Meyer has a history of selecting flawed players and turning them into the finished article, the mercurial fullback Willie le Roux being the best example of this, so perhaps he sees opportunity now to work with Reinach.
The alternative choice here could be Rory Kockott. Up to now Meyer has not considered the French based player on the basis that Du Preez and Pienaar have been his first choices and he took the selfless attitude of not wanting to kill off Kockott’s chances of having an extended international career with France for the sake of maybe a few minutes in the Bok jersey as the third choice.
However with Du Preez out of the picture for the rest of the year there is an opportunity for Kockott to get an extended run, which may have prompted Meyer to think differently.
While scrumhalf could be problematic in the absence of Du Preez as it could expose lack of depth in the position, the conundrum Meyer now faces at flyhalf is who to leave out. Patrick Lambie is fit again, Handré Pollard has to be persisted with after his great start to his international career against Scotland in Port Elizabeth, Morné Steyn is the banker, and then there is Johan Goosen.
Unless Meyer is prepared to jettison the experience and dependability of Steyn, it could well be that Goosen is the man who will miss out. Meyer wanted to see him perform in the June internationals but injury, a constant plague in Goosen’s career, prevented him from doing that. With Goosen now starting a new career in France, the old rule that overseas based players should only be engaged by the Boks if they are considerably better than the home based contenders should be applied at flyhalf.
So Steyn and Pollard are likely to be the flyhalves named on Saturday, with Lambie being saved by his ability to be equally at home at fullback as he is in the No 10 jersey. That effectively gives Meyer three flyhalf options for the Championship.
For the rest of the squad, most of the selections should be predictable – unless Meyer is going to surprise by backing 19-year-old Sharks front-row sensation Thomas du Toit. Based on his first four tastes of Super Rugby, Du Toit certainly appears to have an international future ahead of him. But is it now? Meyer may want to see more of him, and he is young for a prop, so his chances could depend on whether or not Beast Mtawarira is ready to play again, which he should be.
Eben Etzebeth is back in full training for Western Province so he should be one of the locks, with Lodewyk de Jager having done enough during the June international season to retain his place as the other No 4 lock. That should mean that Bakkies Botha gets to enjoy the rest of his off-season rest without being pressed into more international duty.
With Schalk Burger joining JP Pietersen as the Japanese based players not available for the start of the Championship, there is a gap at blindside flank. Juan Smith has been mentioned as a candidate but it is unlikely he will be called up, and there could be a gap for Jacques Potgieter, who along with referee Craig Joubert is the last remaining South African survivor in this year’s Super Rugby competition, to be selected as a utility forward.
Assuming Jean de Villiers is ready to play, the skipper can fill the outside centre position vacated by Pietersen and thus enable Jan Serfontein to continue at No 12, with JJ Engelbrecht and Damian de Allende (if he is fit) being the other centres. De Allende can also cover wing.