Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Heyneke Meyer getting the balance between youth
and experience correct could be pivotal to South Africa’s chances of a standout
World Cup year.
The Springbok coach will know that you can’t go too rookie-laden
to the planet’s premier competition every four years, but that there are also
hazards attached to your squad looking a tad too geriatric.
Inevitably older players come under special scrutiny for
their ability to “get up one more time” for a World Cup as the lure of retirement
from the gruelling modern treadmill looms ever closer for them.
We already know that Meyer should be favourably disposed in
2015 toward a few veterans campaigning for clubs abroad – their playing
standards thus not always evident on South African television screens – and
names that come swiftly to mind include the prior RWC-winning 33-year-old
scrumhalf Fourie du Preez and Bryan Habana, the wing who turns 32 this very day.
But how have the various, many-capped Bok thirtysomethings
who plied their trade in Super Rugby this year fared, as a particularly
important international season looms large?
Here’s how I rate some of the more prominent ones’
ordinary-season showings, just one round shy of the finish. Let us know if you
Bulls (age 38, Bok caps 121)
Easily the oldest Bok we should see in service this year,
Matfield has understandably been employed with special caution and restraint in
Super Rugby. The lineout king knows so well by now how to preserve himself for
a major event, so over-analysis of his Bulls showings is perhaps unwise.
Generally, he’s shown he still cuts the mustard. Retains fine athletic
qualities, and has made some important tackles in open play, but also sometimes
come under rightful fire for not getting involved enough at the tight-five
coalface in times of need – some critics feel the whole Bulls pack just doesn’t
work hard (or fiercely) enough as a unit these days.
RWC suitability rating, based on Super Rugby 2015 evidence:
Jannie du Plessis,
Sharks (age 32, Bok caps 62)
The grand old man of South African tightheads, and when the
mood’s grabbed him he has still provided some sturdy right shoulders at
scrum-time for a troubled Sharks outfit. Discipline and tackling still open to
worrisome scrutiny, and perhaps continues to be more “lippy” than some would
like with referees. Has played second fiddle too often in Super Rugby to all of
Messrs Malherbe, Koch and Redelinghuys for No 3 performances overall -- but his
street-wisdom is likely to keep him in Bok mix.
RWC suitability rating: 6/10
Stormers (age 32, Bok caps 75)
That mongrel desire and energy burn as brightly now as when
he was a late teenager. He’s been through a lot of personal, health-related
angst and must feel pretty bulletproof having come out of it. Burger has even
added a healthy bit of “flash” in hand-skills (OK, he can overdo it from time
to time) to supplement his ceaseless work-rate. His shifts get taken for
granted: was absolutely tremendous in helping repel the Lions – just – in a key
game last weekend. Must go to the RWC 2015, and really deserves to start too.
Offers the Boks versatile options in all three loosie spots, into the bargain.
RWC suitability rating: 8/10
Sharks (age 31, Bok caps 32)
The Bone Collector becomes more and more of a worry in terms
of his ability to stay fit. Walks an eternal tightrope, which disrupts his
ability to build form through consistent activity. Remains an asset in slow,
inclement conditions for his sheer power at close quarters ... but does he get
around the park quickly enough and contribute to a suitable degree when the
pitch is firmer and the pace rather quicker? Could do with a big swansong finish
for his franchise against the Stormers on Saturday, to remind of his qualities.
RWC suitability rating: 6/10
Bismarck du Plessis,
Sharks (age 31, Bok caps 70)
Funny old season for the once world top-rated hooker: the
Sharks imploded and so did he, discipline-wise, when he was still their
captain. But relieved of the leadership chore in recent weeks, the brawny battleship
has begun to reproduce vintage personal performances. Absolutely colossal in a
drought-breaking victory against the Reds in Brisbane; seems to be peaking just
in time for the Test season. Will be an important, “aura” element (you need
those) of the Boks’ mix at RWC.
RWC suitability rating: 7.5/10
Pierre Spies, Bulls
(age 30, Bok caps 53)
The Bulls captain has gone disappointingly AWOL personally in
recent weeks, at a time when his fast-fading side could really have done with
some thunderous performances from the skipper to reawaken the cause. Just looks
too glaringly peripheral! His explosive ability on the rampage is well-known,
but when the team is under the cosh he needs to put in a shift. Has surely
fallen well behind Duane Vermeulen and Warren Whiteley in the Bok pecking order
RWC suitability rating: 5/10
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