Cape Town – One tour, but two different
parts ... that may well be the tactical thinking of coach Heyneke Meyer as the
36-strong Springboks prepare for another northern hemisphere adventure.
When the four-match, all-November schedule
was first revealed, it didn’t take a brain surgeon to work out that the first
two matches look the most formidable of the quartet, requiring the tourists to
hit the ground running.
First up, after all, are defending Six
Nations champions Ireland in Dublin on November 8, immediately followed a week
later by narrow runners-up (not to mention frontline World Cup 2015 hosts)
England at their Twickenham stronghold.
Frankly, although there are some welcome
new faces in the party - five standout performers for best two sides Western
Province and the Golden Lions in the recently-concluded Currie Cup - it will be
a relative surprise if they get a significant look-in during that tough “phase
one” of the tour.
Instead Nizaam Carr, Jaco Kriel and the
other first-timers seem far likelier to simply become familiar with the squad
culture initially and be busier participants in broad training drills than as
members of match-day squads straight away unless injuries suddenly create gaps.
For the tasks in Dublin and London, expect
Meyer to lean heavily toward the personnel who served him with aplomb as the Boks
ended the Castle Rugby Championship – albeit as runners-up – with a bang,
earning successive home victories over Australia and New Zealand.
Why should the coach, following the
drought-breaking 27-25 triumph over the All Blacks at Ellis Park, wish to suddenly
fiddle too markedly, if at all, with the team furniture?
We know he will have at his disposal on
this tour, following the revelation of the party on Monday, all but one
(injured back-up tighthead Marcel van der Merwe) of the match 23 who did duty in
the Johannesburg Test, so “same again” seems the logical approach to the
If that clash produces the outcome the Boks
desire, then the bag ought not to be shaken much for “Twickers” either.
But it is once those two fixtures are out
of the way that things probably get a bit more fluid, offering better hope to
the various newcomers that they will get to wear the green and gold jersey as
the mission moves to what might be branded phase two.
For obvious reasons -- not least their
bottom place and winless status in the latest Six Nations plus modest 14th
IRB ranking -- Italy in Padova in the third fixture looks the easiest, at least
on paper, by some distance.
It seems an opportunity for experimentation
just too inviting to pass up, and would give several senior Boks suffering at
least some symptoms of year-end fatigue a chance to be withdrawn and start
thinking about their well-earned summer holidays back home.
But it could also be the perfect way to
“gel” a necessarily new-look combination ahead of the closing encounter with
Wales in front their ever-passionate support at the Millennium Stadium.
That clash in Cardiff falls outside the
designated Test window so the Boks will have to make do anyway without a few
staple, current squad members.
While it is true that only Bryan Habana
(Toulon) would be ruled out from the starting XV that did duty against the All
Blacks in the Big Smoke, the bench from that day would be more greatly
affected: another French-based player in Bakkies Botha won’t be eligible and
the same will apply to Japan-based Schalk Burger and JP Pietersen.
Whether as starters or substitutes, you can
see why both the Italy and Wales games will be most optimistically pricking up
the ears of maiden tourists in the Bok ranks and perhaps other more “fringe”
The Welsh certainly cannot be too
under-rated, although South Africa have a happy historical knack of somehow
being able, nine times out of ten, to repel them even when they have hurled the
kitchen sink at the Boks.
the Italians have not yet beaten the Springboks in 11 encounters, the closest
margin of defeat being by 16 points at Witbank in 2010, and SA have never
registered fewer than 32 points in their favour (twice 50-plus) in four
meetings in Italy itself.
The Boks would probably be heavily tipped
to prevail once again in Padova even if Meyer took the adventurous step of
starting with all five uncapped players.
He probably won’t, but expect there to be
opportunities (whether as starters or substitutes) for some of the raw
personnel in the northern Italian city and perhaps one game beyond it ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing