Bok coach Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Sport24’s Herman Mostert picks his 31-man Springbok squad for this year’s Rugby World Cup in England and Wales.
Considering the fact that the competition will be played in slightly heavier, Northern Hemisphere conditions, I opted for a 17-14 split between forwards and backs.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will name his final squad on Friday at 18:00 and while he’s probably already picked his final 31, he will be having sleepless nights over the fitness of several key players.
Will captain Jean de Villiers recover in time from a fractured jaw? If not, then Victor Matfield is likely to captain the side.
Will flank Marcell Coetzee be available after suffering a knee injury in the Rugby Championship?
Several other players also have injury worries, with the likes of Jannie du Plessis (knee), Fourie du Preez (knee), Francois Louw (shoulder), Vincent Koch (knee), Steven Kitshoff (knee), Willie le Roux (ankle) and Zane Kirchner (hamstring) unable to take part in the week’s first training session against Namibia on Monday.
I fear that several players will board the plane for England with niggles, but luckily the Boks can ‘ease’ their way into the tournament with an opening game against Japan.
Those with transformation on the mind will no doubt be furiously tallying up the players of colour in the squad below. Let me save you the trouble. There are six. Out of 31. That's just under 20%.
Here’s my 31-man squad for the showpiece event:
Props (5): Tendai Mtawarira, Jannie du Plessis, Frans Malherbe, Trevor Nyakane, Steven Kitshoff
Mtawarira and Du Plessis are certain picks due to their experience, while Malherbe is a solid back-up.
Nyakane’s versatility makes him a handy option.
Kitshoff is still sidelined with a knee injury and should he not be available, then Heinke van der Merwe would be a handy inclusion.
Hookers (3): Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Schalk Brits
Bismarck is till the No 1 hooker and has proven that he plays better without any captaincy burdens.
Strauss has taken a dip in form of late, but I’d still take him along, while Saracens-based Brits’ experience of northern hemisphere conditions would be prove valuable.
Locks (4): Victor Matfield, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Pieter-Steph du Toit
Lineouts will be of utmost importance and there’s no better organiser in that regard than the experienced Matfield, who would also be named captain if Jean de Villiers fails to recover in time.
Etzebeth’s physicality is badly needed, while De Jager has impressed in Test thus far this year, while fit-again Du Toit is a valuable understudy.
Loose forwards (5): Schalk Burger, Francois Louw, Duane Vermeulen, Heinrich Brussow, Willem Alberts
Louw is also suffering from a shoulder injury but his experience of how the breakdown is approached and refereed up north would prove invaluable.
Burger has displayed great form this year, while the fetching abilities of Brussow would be essential. There’s still a massive injury cloud around Vermeulen, but the Boks need his and Alberts’ physicality.
The versatile Du Toit (picked as lock) could also be utilised as a loose forward in case of an emergency.
Unfortunately, another untimely knee injury is likely to rule Marcell Coetzee out.
Scrumhalves (3): Fourie du Preez, Cobus Reinach, Francois Hougaard
Fourie du Preez hasn’t played for the Boks this year, but I believe he is still the best scrumhalf in the country and - if fit - should be the starting No 9 at the World Cup.
Cobus Reinach and Francois Hougaard would be my back-ups.
In my opinion, Ruan Pienaar has not performed up to the standard of an international scrumhalf and Hougaard’s X-factor on attack could aid the Boks greatly. Dropping Hougaard (who could also be a back-up at wing) was a mistake and he’s proven his worth for the Blue Bulls in the Currie Cup this year.
Flyhalves (3): Pat Lambie, Handre Pollard, Morne Steyn
Lambie and Pollard pick themselves, while I would also take along the experienced Steyn, who still remains South Africa’s best goal-kicker.
Centres (4): Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel, Jean de Villiers, Frans Steyn
De Allende and Kriel have been standouts this year, while the leadership of a hopefully fit De Villiers would prove vital.
A local newspaper earlier this week indicated that Steyn would not be available for the World Cup. However, I feel he should go. His prodigious boot, physical presence and experience of northern conditions would be a real asset.
It’s also a real pity that Jaque Fourie is not in contention...
Wings (3): Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen, Lwazi Mvovo
The experience of Habana and Pietersen would be vital, while Mvovo showed against Argentina in Buenos Aires what a lethal finisher he can be. His kicking game is also sound and he defends the high ball well.
Fullbacks (1): Willie le Roux
Despite not having the best of seasons, Le Roux is still my No 1 fullback choice. He adds spark to the backline and now boasts valuable experience.
Kriel and Frans Steyn could also be a back-up solutions in this position.