Cape Town - It is tempting to call it
“official” ... if Springbok captain Jean de Villiers is to play a fulsome role at
the World Cup, outside centre is his likeliest starting berth.
Sport24 has been speculating for several
weeks that De Villiers, once fully fit again after his dreadful Cardiff injury
late last year, seems best accommodated at No 13 if his courageous fightback to
Bok contention is deemed to contain the desired fruits to the cause.
That is because the emerging Damian de
Allende was so influential at inside centre for the Stormers, the best of South
Africa’s largely ineffectual bunch, in Super Rugby this year - and the
23-year-old has almost indisputably extended that form into the Test season.
Meyer has instead shifted the other Bok midfield
revelation of late, Jesse Kriel, to right wing for the Castle Rugby Championship
clash with Argentina in Durban on Saturday (17:05 kick-off) as De Villiers
comes into the No 13 vacancy.
That almost seems a move designed chiefly
to placate the understandable pro-Kriel lobby, although let it be said that the
extremely versatile footballer shouldn’t look like a fish out of water in the
No 14 shirt where once-staple JP Pietersen has been battling to reach his
X-factor levels of seasons past and Cornal Hendricks is also not the finished
It is true that De Villiers is no longer
the speediest Gonzales to station at No 13, but he has gifts in the cerebral
department - a la Conrad Smith, also a veteran and no out-and-out gas merchant
there - that do not dim with age or visits to the treatment table and
He may very well remain, too, the South
African centre who most comfortably flits between Nos 12 and 13 without
struggling to make the adjustments needed.
The De Villiers fan club will also have
noted that his selection at No 13 against the Pumas came on the very day
reports suggest Jaque Fourie, another yeoman servant of the berth for South
Africa, has finally called it quits at international level.
De Villiers’s pure experience and tactical
nous in a backline is hardly to be pooh-poohed in a World Cup year, but let it
also be clear that Saturday, as he leads the green-and-gold Test troops out for
the first time in some nine months, is the first genuinely acid examination of
whether his gritty campaign to regain full fitness ticks the necessary boxes.
He needs to be workmanlike at the very
least, and probably also get through at least an hour of activity without
If he does come off ahead of the 80-minute
mark, Kriel is the obvious man to summon back in-field to see out the match
Meyer is not wrong in saying, in the
official team release, that he “cannot wait to see what (De Villiers) can offer
playing next to exciting youngsters such as Handre Pollard, Damian and Jesse”.
It is entirely possible such rookies will
only blossom further with the wiles of De Villiers very nearby.
There will be people in Durban and
surrounds, particularly, who are disappointed that Pat Lambie has not been
granted a start after he fronted a media briefing in the lead-up days and
seemed a near shoo-in (if not at No 10, then perhaps to give Willie le Roux a
break in the last line of defence).
Instead Pollard retains the pivot slot,
despite some concerns of residual concussion problems after the All Blacks Test
in Johannesburg a week and a half back.
Lambie will hopefully get reasonably generous
second-half exposure at flyhalf, whilst a sound argument for keeping starting
faith in Pollard is that the youngster appears to be building a promising head
of steam again performance-wise; remember that he didn’t always convince for a
shaky Bulls side in Super Rugby 2015.
Pollard’s physical gifts may be another
reason Meyer has convinced himself that he is the right choice for the World
Cup No 10 role, and must therefore be made to feel suitably settled in the
In pack changes - there are just two from
the narrow All Blacks defeat - the Boks lose very little by replacing injured
Francois Louw with Sharks favourite Marcell Coetzee at blindside flank; the
loose trio retains pleasing hallmarks of mobility, enterprise and a strong work
ethic even if not vastly laden with banker options at the tail of the lineout.
In the enforced absence of in-form Jannie
du Plessis at tighthead prop, Vincent Koch gets an enticing opportunity against
the Argentinean bajada to nail down credentials as best back-up at No 3.
Yes, Meyer might well have experimented
more on Saturday, but he will also be aware of the importance to the national
psyche of simply securing a good win after successive setbacks.
He will have figured that if the majority
of personnel who did duty against the Wallabies and All Blacks could come so
close to downing them, then they should have the comfortable beating of
It is if the Boks look a motley lot on
Saturday that we should probably start to get worried ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing