Cape Town – He has been keeping a low public profile during the first half of Super Rugby’s ordinary season ... and it is probably just as well.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer must be scratching his head worriedly already over how to construct his national side for the first assignment of the 2015 Test season, against Australia in Brisbane on July 18 as part of a condensed Rugby Championship.
Presently several Boks are either injured, suspended or undergoing rest periods (the sudden pulling of Duane Vermeulen from the Stormers’ overseas tour after only one match has tongues wagging despite official statements that it was “always planned”), whilst other staple characters have suffered form dips in line with the general struggles of their sides in the local conference and overall.
It is difficult to envisage any SA team actually winning Super Rugby at this point – not the ideal state of affairs in a World Cup year, even if it is not always proved to be relevant -- just as it is hazardous to predict which franchise will eventually top the ho-hum domestic pile.
It is true that a few additional players like overseas-based Bryan Habana, Fourie du Preez and Francois Louw and a rehabilitating Pieter-Steph du Toit should brighten the Bok equation, fitness permitting, nearer the Test roster itself, and one or two outsiders like Stormers tighthead strongman Vincent Koch and some surprise-package Lions personnel have stuck up their hands.
Yet a look at the last Springbok line-up for a Test – the unpalatable 12-6 loss to Wales in Cardiff on November 29 last year – gives you an idea of Meyer’s quandary; things look considerably more unsettled than he would like.
Here, player by player, is that starting XV from the Millennium Stadium, with a comment on current statuses:
15 Willie le Roux
Clearly carrying an ankle injury for the Cheetahs, he’s not looking especially comfortable or contended. Still dangerously unpredictable, but also gaffe-prone.
14 Cornal Hendricks
Some electric moments on attack, but all too infrequently, in line with Cheetahs’ three-game losing streak abroad.
13 Jan Serfontein
Has looked largely blunt as attacking source this season, and recent hip niggle has opened Bulls’ No 12 jersey to revelation Burger Odendaal.
12 Jean de Villiers (capt)
Veteran skipper continues his gutsy race against time to be fit for RWC, but absolutely no guarantees yet. Organisation and awareness missed in Stormers’ midfield.
11 Lwazi Mvovo
Few chances to get on front foot, as Sharks have spent alarming amounts of time in recent weeks without desired doses of possession or territory.
10 Pat Lambie
In fine personal form until 10-52 Crusaders home shocker, when his own mojo went AWOL. Now gone anyway for six weeks with neck injury.
9 Cobus Reinach
One of desperately few Sharks players of late to be consistently wearing the colours with pride and energy – Bok credentials have lifted.
8 Duane Vermeulen
Now you see him, now you don’t. One overseas tour game for the Stormers captain, then a little weirdly sent home for more rest. Ordinary first half against log-leading Hurricanes, then vigorous second albeit after horse had pretty much bolted.
7 Oupa Mohoje
So-so showings at flank for Cheetahs, then tore groin muscle in Christchurch and ruled out for some three months.
6 Marcell Coetzee
Busy, rather than outright barnstorming, up to his mandatory rest against Force. Then unusually listless in ‘Saders fiasco at Kings Park.
5 Victor Matfield
Subject of some cruel early-season observations from various critics; I feel he’s been playing well. Now the 37-year-old Bulls No 5 kingpin is sidelined for a few weeks to clean up some knee cartilage.
4 Eben Etzebeth
Frustratingly stop-start campaign thus far, with vulnerability to injury a concern. Spent too much time pulling threatening faces in first half at Cake Tin last weekend; came properly alive after break. Still not quite back to the exciting force of two/three years back.
3 Coenie Oosthuizen
Another of few Boks right now to be shifting encouragingly northward; seems to be learning art of tighthead scrummaging after his more “permanent” shift to No 3.
2 Bismarck du Plessis
Far off his heyday! Didn’t deliver to known lofty standards in early Sharks matches, then the captain got that costly four-week ban for a foot to the face of a Chiefs player.
1 Tendai Mtawarira
A couple of fire-and-brimstone showings at scrum-time and in ball-carrying, then as anonymous as any team-mate in the Crusaders horror show.
*Of the designated reserves when the Boks played in Cardiff, the “pluses” include Adriaan Strauss, coming into his own as a Bulls pack figurehead, versatile Trevor Nyakane, gradually getting to grips with the tighthead role at Loftus, Francois Hougaard (some sprightly displays on the Bulls right wing) and the increasing maturity of Handre Pollard and Damian de Allende. On the more negative side, Julian Redelinghuys is struggling to get first-choice status at the Lions, Nizaam Carr has gone notably backwards in 2015 thus far, and Lood de Jager is still rehabbing from an elbow injury.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing