Johannesburg - Springbok rugby is in a “catch-22” situation at the moment and will need to “box clever” in the opening three weeks of the international season if they are to take a fully-fit squad to this year’s Rugby World Cup.
According to the supersport.com website, the franchise apathy at keeping to agreements to rest players has hurt the Bok cause, and now the national team needs to manage players, bring others back from injury and try and accommodate a massive injury list within three weeks of playing the top two sides in the world.
More than this they face this task in front of an unforgiving public who demand results, oblivious to the stark reality of the injury crisis that is facing the Springbok team at the moment.
To counter this the 49 man squad has been named to cover the bases, but it is clear that a large part of the injured squad is the frontline that the Boks will use going into the Rugby World Cup and the key is to get them fit as well, and in form.
Ideally the Bok coach would want to play injured players like Jean de Villiers, Duane Vermeulen and Pat Lambie in 20 minute bursts working up to a full game, but the reality is there simply isn’t time left, with just five international games left before the Rugby World Cup.
This means a number of the squad may well make their debut for the Boks, but not be there when the final 31 is picked for the World Cup.
And as most rugby fans will know there is a massive difference between fitness and form, and getting senior players back into form after injury is another big problem for the team.
Despite howls from the public for the inclusion of certain players, those who have performed at international level, have experience should always be included ahead of those who have had form for a few games. The right World Cup squad is an experienced one of combinations, who have a good mixture of youthful exuberance and solid experience to go into a tournament that makes or breaks careers.
That is why the correct combination of players is needed to bring back the experience, but use the youth to stop both the Wallabies and All Blacks in consecutive weeks, something that is hard enough when you have a fully fit squad.
“We’re in a catch 22 at the moment, I don’t want to make any excuses, but in an ideal world you want to start with your best 23, who are Super fit and play them for five games. Perhaps bring one or two guys from the bench and get that continuity before the World Cup. The difficulty for me is that we didn’t have an incoming tour, a lot of these guys have been with us last time in November, and couldn’t train at the camps,” Meyer said.
“The tough thing now - and I never want to do it – is that I am going to have to use the Rugby Championship as preparation for the World Cup as well. It doesn’t make it easy because you start against a very strong World XV who are as strong as any New Zealand side, then you play Australia away, where you don’t have much time and then New Zealand away, and they fly over with us. In an ideal world you want your best team, get them out there and play the combinations together. Unfortunately you have to get some younger players in as well, and give some younger players game time while bringing others through.
“We’re going to have to use the Rugby Championship to get guys right for the World Cup, the World Cup is the most important. I do truly believe that we have some great players, they may not have played together and we will go out there and try and win the Rugby Championship, which we can. I’m still positive, but there is not a lot of time.”
Meyer says the management needs to “box smart” with decisions in the coming weeks as they could have long-term consequences for the World Cup.
“You play the World XV and because it is an official game you can only have seven reserves on the bench. A guy like Jean can only play 20 minutes, Patrick can only play 20 minutes, Heinrich Brussow can only play 20 minutes, Lood can only play 20 minutes. I’ve said to the doc you can’t have seven guys on the bench who can only play 20 minutes. You want to get the confidence back for a lot of guys who haven’t performed well in Super Rugby.
“I would prefer two teams in the final and continuity going forward, but saying that I believe in our cause and there is not a lot of time, but there is enough time and come the World Cup we need to be ready to go. We just need to box smart the next four, five weeks – without injuring more players, while giving others enough game time, and hopefully the franchises will help us because we need the whole country to support us.”
Despite the injury list and the fact that franchises have made the task more difficult by not following the agreement, Meyer believes they can play an active role now to help get players who are coming back from injury fit, and needs them to strengthen the Bok cause. Their reaction will be a true test of whether they support the Bok campaign for the World Cup or not.
“A lot of the franchises helped, I also know they’re under pressure and I’ve got great relationships with them. This is the situation, a lot of the guys are injured and I must deal with it. It is really not an ideal situation, I would love to have a fit team, I worry about centres, there aren’t centres and locks. Saying that I’ve always been positive and know that once a guy puts on a Springbok jersey they will perform and it’s up to me now.
“I must say it is going to be tough, I’ve always believed in being honest about the situation and I believe in the players and in the team and I know we can get it right, but it will be tough to get it going the first two three weeks.”
Meyer must play the cards he is dealt, and make the best of it, hope for public patience and luck on the injury front if he hopes to have the squad he wants for the Rugby World Cup.