Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will have no choice but
to pick his best side for the team’s opening Rugby World Cup match
against minnows Japan in Brighton on September 19.
According to the supersport.com website,
while the final 31 players announced for the Rugby World Cup regroup
this morning in their Umhlanga base, and will get down to the final
preparations before leaving for the tournament on September 11, the
make-up of the squad means that there is little room for experimentation
at the opening game, and the Boks are likely to field their strongest
There are several good reasons for this, especially in
the aftermath of a disappointing lead-in to the World Cup, and the fact
that the top Springboks have simply not had enough game time together as
a unit before heading to England.
While reports are that the
closed training sessions have looked good, there simply isn’t a
substitute for match day form, something the Bok coach knows. Still, the
amount of walking wounded players are a massive concern going into the
Medical reports have suggested these players will be
fit by the opening game against Japan, which gives Meyer the chance to
play the likes of Jean de Villiers, Fourie du Preez and Coenie
Oosthuizen in the opening game and allow them to work their way back
into match form.
The only specific worry is Duane Vermeulen, who
is likely to miss the opening game but will be ready for the second
game of the tournament against Samoa. All these players mentioned are
easy choices when they are fit and in match form, and the coach has
gambled a lot on getting them ready for the showpiece tournament.
The Boks will go into the game knowing they have two objectives for the
World Cup. First they need to qualify for the playoff rounds and
secondly have to build momentum going into the playoff rounds.
With this in mind, it is likely that Meyer will want to make a strong
statement in the opening game, not only to hush his critics, but also to
give the squad time together before the Samoan game and to gain some
Japan are likely to be far from the physical match the
Boks are expecting from Samoa a week later, but it will be imperative
to ensure the team gets enough time together to gel before taking on the
Samoans, who looked impressive in going down by three points to the
Barbarians XV on Saturday in London.
The Boks will need to play
their best line-up in the games against Samoa and Scotland, meaning some
of the fringe players are hardly likely to get a run before the final
pool match against the USA at the Olympic Stadium, and possibly only one
chance to impress the coach.
From the quarterfinals onwards the
Boks will always field their best line-up, barring injuries, and there
will be the hope that those players requiring game time will do so
through the four pool games and be in form by the time the playoff
rounds come along.
The uncertainty about the form of the likes
of Du Preez, Vermeulen and the others has certainly not helped the Boks
talent in the eyes of their supporters, but if the medical team are to
be believed, they will be ready and have already rejoined the practice
sessions for the team.
Du Preez – possibly the most honest
player in the squad – said plainly that he didn’t feel he was 100% ready
at this moment to go to the World Cup, but was confident that with two
more weeks he would be okay.
“It was a freak accident at
training, it was quite a big setback for me and I had to work really
hard to get back into contention for the World Cup. If I had to be
honest, I’d say I’m not 100 percent but I’ve worked so hard to get here
and to be here, that I will give my all.
“I should be ready in two weeks and that is my goal. It’s a process and I’m confident I will get there.
"From previous experience of coming back after long lay-offs, I only
need about 20 minutes to pick up the pace and rhythm of the game again.
I’m not as confident this time, but if you ask me that question with two
more weeks of training, I might be able to say with confidence I’ll
only need a short time on the field to be up to speed," he said.
"The World Cup is a long tournament and hopefully I can get an
opportunity to play in the pool stages to build towards the
quarterfinals and get into the form I want to reach."
of the firm belief that all these players will pick up form quickly, and
if they do, the Boks will be bolstered by their presence, and stronger
by the time they reach the playoffs.