Mapoe states his case for Bok selection
Ockert de Villiers - Sport24
Johannesburg - The chorus for Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer to include Lions outside centre Lionel Mapoe in his Rugby World Cup squad is growing louder by the day as the player produce sterling performances week after week in this year’s Super Rugby competition.
While the 26-year-old had been on the Bok fringes in the past he has not quite made such a good case for his inclusion as in 2015.
Although he has not featured in Meyer’s plans in the last two years, Mapoe hoped that his performances on the field this year would give the selectors something to ponder about.
“It is definitely my dream to go to the World Cup but it will be an added bonus if the coach picks me for the Boks at No 13,” Mapoe said.
“It is something I am working towards and if I do what is expected of me then they will look at me.
“I am just trying to do my best and play my heart out every weekend and then hopefully one day pull that Springbok jersey over my head.”
He has been on Meyer’s radar since early in his coaching tenure when Mapoe featured as a non-playing member of the 2012 end-of-year tour side, before dropping out of contention thanks partly to the Lions’ relegation from Super Rugby in 2013.
While Mapoe crossed the Jukskei River on loan to the Bulls in 2013, his season was cut short due to a shoulder injury.
His recent rise to prominence coincided with the Lions’ return to Super Rugby in 2014 and he has since been building on that momentum.
“I received a lot of game time and that helped a lot to make the position my own and I have grown in confidence gauging myself against some of the world’s best players in Super Rugby. So I believe I can do it at the highest level,” he said.
Mapoe said the ball-in-hand style the Lions adopted over the last few years also suited the way he liked to play the game.
“It is just a nice brand of rugby at the Lions, everybody buys into it and I feel it works for me where we have freedom to play what is in front of us and not be conditioned to play like a robot.”
His fine form for the resurgent Lions may just be the remedy for Meyer’s chronic headache he had to endure about the No 13 position since taking the reins of the national side in 2012.
Mapoe received a call-up to the Bok training squad earlier this month and has fuelled his hopes of finally earning his first Test cap.
“At least I know they are looking at me during the Super Rugby competition but I just want to do my best for the Lions where we stand a chance to make the playoffs,” he said.
“I know that if I bring my part for the Lions that reward will come at the end of the year or maybe even earlier.”
Meyer has been chopping and changing, prodding and probing to find a suitable outside centre for the wealth of talent South Africa possess at inside centre.
In his first year in charge, Meyer had Springbok captain Jean de Villiers at outside centre with Francois Steyn on his inside.
Later in their campaign De Villiers moved to the inside channel with Jaco Taute and Juan de Jongh getting turns at 13.
The most consistent midfield combination of his tenure was in 2013 when JJ Engelbrecht featured in the first Tests on De Villiers’ outside before he fell out of favour to see Jaque Fourie rekindle his long-time combination with the Bok captain on the end-of-year tour.
Last year proved to be a testing year for the Bok mentor with injuries and off-field player issues wreaking havoc with his team selections.
With De Villiers injured he was forced to play JP Pietersen at outside and Jan Serfontein at No 12 before Damian de Allende played at 13 in the two Tests against Argentina.
Meyer finally found a settled combination in the remaining eight matches of the year when Serfontein did duty on De Villiers’ outside before the Bok captain suffered his career-threatening injury against Wales in the final tour match.