Cape Town – The Springboks should at least
start the 2014 Castle Rugby Championship broadly better equipped than
when they finished last year’s version as the runners-up to New Zealand.
That prospect became likelier on Saturday as Heyneke Meyer announced his 30-player squad for the four-nation competition.
of the personnel he has opted for is ill-advised at this point, given
the importance of the next few days to the coach on the Highveld – the
Boks are in camp from Monday to Friday, then re-gather again from Sunday
in the lead-up to the Loftus opener against Argentina on August 16 –
for assessing the readiness of players who are back on board after
stints of varying lengths as injury casualties.
Only as the entire
group is put through its training and medical-assessment paces will it
become really apparent who the favourites are to start against the
There may be some fit-again customers (this pretty large
group includes regular captain Jean de Villiers, Eben Etzebeth, Tendai
Mtawarira, Frans Malherbe, Damian de Allende and Pat Lambie) for whom
possible places in the run-on XV are deemed slightly ambitious at this
For example, Meyer may have been very partial for some time
to the credentials of Etzebeth, but the rugged young No 4 lock has not
begun a rugby match of any kind since the 2013 season-ending victory
over France in Paris in late November when he badly injured an ankle –
the next 10 days or so will be crucial in gauging whether he can be
fast-tracked, or should be filtered in more cautiously.
notably few shocks in the squad named, with just two uncapped elements
in Sharks scrumhalf Cobus Reinach (unlikely to become immediate
first-choice No 9 anyway) and Stormers utility back De Allende, who was
selected in the June window period but promptly, cruelly got injured.
and stability have been key pillars of Meyer’s philosophy and generally
speaking that approach has paid dividends for him in the hot seat.
perhaps more educative at this point than wondering about the XV to do
duty against the Argentinean underdogs – things ought to get clearer at
the start of the Test lead-up week – is to compare the selected party to
the match-day 23 put out the last time the Boks lost a match.
of course, was the decisive, closing game of the 2013 Championship when
the All Blacks, put impressively under the cosh early on at Ellis Park,
kept their composure to outsmart and outlast South Africa in a 38-27
What quickly becomes noticeable is that Meyer appears to
have “moved on” a year later, if you like, from questionable elements of
his mix like fullback Zane Kirchner, centre JJ Engelbrecht and lock
All three of those men started that Johannesburg
thriller, but now cannot even find a place in a 30-strong group for the
initial phase of the 2014 Championship.
An entirely different
footballing beast to Kirchner, Willie le Roux was employed at more
remote right wing against the All Blacks, but has subsequently become
the undisputed, regular fullback and been hugely influential in giving
the Bok backline as a whole a welcome degree of oomph and
unpredictability on attack.
Similarly, Engelbrecht has slipped
several notches down the midfield pecking order in South Africa, whilst
Racing Metro-based second-rower Kruger will not be too heavily tipped
now to add any more to his tally of 17 Bok caps, with a heap of young
locks storming to the fore and lineout great Victor Matfield firmly back
in the brew for this year’s Championship.
A couple of the
substitutes who earned generous game-time in that last Bok loss in the
Big Smoke, flank Siya Kolisi and versatile prop Coenie Oosthuizen, have
also paid a price for innocuous form in this year’s Super Rugby
competition, in particular.
The burly Oosthuizen did get
reasonable opportunities on both sides of the Bok scrum during the June
window and unfortunately looked a fish out of water both at tighthead,
where he has been bravely experimenting, and even his more familiar
loosehead when chosen to start there against Scotland.
clear that his best chance of fighting back into the Bok mix – purists
will be happy that a No 3 specialist in Malherbe has been restored as
Jannie du Plessis’s back-up – will be to make a firm personal decision
on which prop berth to focus on, and then stick to it.
A gut feel
of many is that his ball-carrying abilities make him far best suited to
the “looser” responsibilities of the No 1 role, although a complication
is that the loosehead duty reportedly aggravates his problematic neck
condition, so he is in a pretty unenviable situation ...
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing