Durban - Months of planning and speculation come to end on Friday evening when Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer names his 31-man Rugby World Cup squad in Durban.
Sport24 will cover the Springbok RWC squad announcement LIVE on Friday from 17:00
Meyer has been under the cosh during the international season as senior players have battled injury, indifferent form and a run of defeats while transformation requirements are adding to the pressures of selection.
There has, however, been some cheering news in recent days as the recent medical reports have mostly been positive and those senior players who have been sidelined for weeks and even months, Jean de Villiers, Fourie du Preez, Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Coenie Oosthuizen, JP Pietersen and Jannie du Plessis, have all been cleared.
This will allow Meyer to name close to his strongest possible squad for the World Cup which starts in England on September 18. The only player missing is veteran outside centre Jaque Fourie, who declared himself unavailable after being included in Meyer’s initial training squad.
Two others, utility back Frans Steyn and Sharks flank Marcell Coetzee, could miss selection because of injury. The year has been a disaster for Steyn. His annus horribilis has included an extended break for injury, a lengthy suspension and the recent sudden death of his brother on the family farm near Bethlehem. And now it appears he will also miss out on World Cup selection.
The committed Coetzee went down with knee ligament injury in the Test against the Pumas at the start of the month. He is expected to be fit by the time the RWC kicks off but, with the competition for places at its most fierce in the backrow, his injury could count against him.
Meyer’s decision to revise his game plan will also have a strong bearing on selection. The Pumas’ shock win in Durban early in August convinced Meyer that the Springboks, tactically, had been travelling down the wrong road and he made a successful return to a familiar, more conservative approach a week later in Buenos Aires.
The result is that his old Blue Bulls favourites, fullback Zane Kirchner and the 31-year-old flyhalf Morné Steyn, are likely to be among the 31 players with Meyer believing that both are well-suited to northern hemisphere conditions.
Meyer is apparently looking at a 14:17 split between backs and forwards and, with Jean de Villiers certain to be back in the midfield, it is settling on a utility player (Kirchner or Lionel Mapoe) and a third scrumhalf which will cause most debate in the selections behind the scrum.
Kirchner would provide back-up on the wing though Meyer could opt for Mapoe as a utility back to cover centre and wing and leaving flyhalf Pat Lambie and centre Jesse Kriel as cover for Willie le Roux at fullback.
Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo are the obvious selections on the wing with De Villiers joining the young pair of Kriel and Damian de Allende in midfield. Lambie, Handré Pollard and Morné Steyn provide variety at flyhalf.
One of the major surprises is expected at scrumhalf where Cobus Reinach could lose out to Rudy Paige as the third scrumhalf behind Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar.
The toughest selections among the forwards will be at flank and in settling on a second tighthead behind Jannie du Plessis.
Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw and Willem Alberts remain Meyer’s first-choice backrow. Schalk Burger can cover all three positions and the fifth loose forward position should go to either Marcell Coetzee or Siya Kolisi with Heinrich Brüssow probably losing out.
Meyer regards Pieter-Steph du Toit as an ideal utility forward, able to replace Alberts at blindside flank or play in his specialist position in the second-row where Victor Matfield, Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager will be the other locks.
Springbok scrum coach Pieter de Villiers said this week that only five props would go to the RWC. Trevor Nyakane and Beast Mtawarira are the obvious looseheads while either Frans Malherbe or Marcel van der Merwe, who scrummed well in Buenos Aires, is expected to be the back-up tighthead to Du Plessis. Coenie Oosthuizen, over his neck injury and able to play on both sides of the scrum, should be the fifth prop but his lack of match practice will be a concern.
Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss and Schalk Brits will be the three hookers in the squad.
The Springboks open their World Cup campaign against Japan in Brighton on September 19. Samoa, Scotland and the USA are their other teams in their group.
Possible Springbok squad:
Fullbacks – Willie le Roux
Utility – Zane Kirchner
Wings – Bryan Habana, JP Pietersen, Lwazi Mvovo
Centres – Jean de Villiers, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende
Flyhalves – Pat Lambie, Handré Pollard, Morné Steyn
Scrumhalves – Fourie du Preez, Ruan Pienaar, Rudy Paige
Loose forwards – Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Siya Kolisi
Locks – Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Victor Matfield
Utility - Pieter-Steph du Toit
Props – Beast Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Jannie du Plessis, Frans Malherbe, Coenie Oosthuizen
Hookers – Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Schalk Brits