Frans Malherbe (Gallo)
London – It is extremely hazardous to guess with any confidence the Springbok personnel Heyneke Meyer will assemble later on Monday here (around 18:00 SA time) for the task of downing the United States in their final RWC Pool B match on Wednesday.
While he did reveal to Sport24 immediately after the Scotland triumph that he would take a “mixed approach” to his selection for the quick-turnaround encounter, which staple players and which more fringe ones would crack the nod for the Olympic Stadium remains a tough code for pundits to crack, if you like.
Much will depend on exactly how battered and bruised certain, valuable members of the teams which comfortably beat both Samoa and the Scots are deemed to be by the coach and his medical lieutenants.
A reasonably safe prediction at this point is perhaps that Schalk Burger and JP Pietersen, two survivors of the 2007 tournament-winning side who have been in sparkling form recently, will be allowed to fully rest their known niggles against the winless (and pointless) side in bottom spot on the group table.
Considering that there had also been some pre-match concerns in Newcastle about men like tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis and centre Damian de Allende -- both suffering knee troubles although they appeared to come through unscathed on the day – pitching them straight back into starting battle four days on might be an overly risky business.
Besides, Du Plessis is under mounting pressure in the No 3 jersey anyway, not having covered himself in disciplinary glory (an area where Meyer rightly remains a little agitated) by earning a yellow card for a shoulder charge at St James’ Park.
It just seems a perfect time for understudy Frans Malherbe to get a start, especially given that the front five is the department most likely to be freshened after the exertions in Newcastle.
There may, in fact, be only one survivor from the tight five which did such yeoman work against Scotland: one of the locks, Eben Etzebeth or Lood de Jager, may have to put in one further sturdy shift before getting a welcome week and a half’s break to the quarter-finals (assuming the Boks clinch their berth on Wednesday).
My fancy would be that No 4 enforcer Etzebeth, the most established and valuable Bok lock these days, doesn’t start this one after fulsome roles in both of the last two victories, and that the impressively workaholic De Jager is going to have to switch berths to that jersey against the USA, probably in partnership with a fresh and primed Pieter-Steph du Toit.
The Boks have limited second-row options, given that Victor Matfield is recovering from a hamstring strain and may not quite be ready to begin a match again yet.
De Jager started cramping late on against the Scots, which was understandable after another ferocious and enduring display, but is young and keen enough to bite the bullet, you would imagine, for Wednesday.
Should Meyer opt not to begin with any of his loose forwards employed in Newcastle, then doors should open for the likes of Siya Kolisi and Willem Alberts to play prominent roles against the minnows.
If Pietersen isn’t considered fully fit to play at right wing, a return to the starting XV for Lwazi Movo seems a sensible course of action, with Bryan Habana – another veteran looking illuminatingly sharp of late – perhaps shifting seamlessly to the right.
The coach may not want to shake the bag too violently, given that the Boks not only want to win, but also secure a four-try bonus point on Wednesday to seal a first-placed pool finish and have a good chance of then tackling an injury-hit Wales in a quarter-final.
A certain sense of continuity in positions or combinations may be necessary to ensure no major “wobbles” in this fixture.
If he does opt to introduce some relative rookies to the run-on XV against the USA, he may well adopt the Jake White approach to that memorable 2007 game against Tonga, by also having a formidable arsenal of “hardebaarde” at his beck and call on the bench – just in case of trouble.
Many Bok fans will remember that clash eight years ago, when the Boks were trailing the fired-up Tongans during the second half. But then the coach was able to infuse all of John Smit, Matfield, Habana, Juan Smith, Percy Montgomery and company to help close the deal on a heart-stopping 30-25 triumph.
It may prove to be well inaccurate in some slots when Meyer actually shows his hand, but here is a suggestion of the sort of starting XV that should be too strong for the USA despite many alterations:
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie/Handre Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez (capt), 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Siya Kolisi/Francois Louw, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Adriaan Strauss/Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing. Rob is attending the Bok pool phase of RWC 2015 to provide news and analysis for Sport24 readers.