Rugby Championship

Meyer shows hand with skipper

2015-08-05 14:01
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)
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 article.

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 operating theatre.

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 withering noticeably.

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 there.

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 lead-up.

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 Argentina.

It is if the Boks look a motley lot on Saturday that we should probably start to get worried ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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