Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – In a radio interview much earlier on Friday, 2003 Springbok World Cup captain Corne Krige lamented how difficult it was to assemble a squad for the latest tournament.
Krige said he was determined to ensure all positions were properly catered for in depth terms as he contemplated his own, ideal RWC 2015 Bok mix, and in doing so came up with 35 names rather than the mandatory 31.
So he made some tweaks, introducing some, ditching others ... and then found he was still stuck with four blessed souls too many.
At long last, after the inevitable weeks of national hype, keen debate and doubtless some heated squabbling as well, Heyneke Meyer on Friday evening named (OK, he didn’t exactly; SuperSport’s affable Xola Ntshinga did) the official 31 to fly to London.
At least Meyer got the tally right – a good start.
It must have been a thankless task for him and his aides, as it would have been for all coaches preparing for the event. Nobody is ever deemed 100 percent correct in national selection by 100 percent of people.
Of course in South Africa’s unique society, there are additional issues to consider, and in terms of the quest -- requirement -- for racial inclusiveness there will be those who consider that transformation has been taken too far and even more who believe it has been lamentably under-served.
Provincialism is never too far away, either: one thing you can bet is that there will be some nose-out-of-joint supporters of the Lions, South Africa’s second best outfit in Super Rugby 2015. Their contribution to the squad is zero.
But the cookie has crumbled, and there are delighted (Trevor Nyakane’s broad, utterly unpretentious beam as a World Cup first-timer made the over-the-top razzmatazz worthwhile alone) and devastated players (“there were tears”, Meyer explained) from all backgrounds in the wake of the travelling names being revealed.
Purely in terms of the known, time-honoured quality of many of the players picked, it is a strong squad – ace pundit Nick Mallett even says “fantastic” -- and as Krige would have wished, it seems to have most bases at least adequately covered.
It will be led by Jean de Villiers, who has ridden a dapper, sometimes near-brutal recovery road to defy medical odds and make it to another crack at the Webb Ellis Cup.
We don’t know yet whether he will be able to muster his personal playing standards of old, or even when he will actually grace the tournament. But we shouldn’t discount just how desperate and fired-up he will be to extend his fairytale to tangible team reward over the next few weeks.
We should also be confident that he boasts the backing of his troops, will be a cerebral captain who knows how to engage referees in a fitting manner and a fine ambassador before global media scrums. All of those things come quite easily, I believe, and should not be under-valued.
Meyer has placed high value on experience – no surprise there. South Africa will enter RWC 2015 with one of the highest averages (42) of prior caps of all the competing teams, even as some are still awaited.
Former Bok wing Ashwin Willemse put it quite well as he chewed on the squad: “Heyneke has really said ‘I’m going to place my chips on the players I have always had the most faith in’.”
But that doesn’t automatically mean there won’t be opportunities from their ranks for a youthful prince or three to come irresistibly to the fore. A Pieter-Steph du Toit, or a Handre Pollard, or a Damian de Allende ... maybe the planet will know an awful lot more of them after this World Cup than they did before it.
Just how far the Boks go, in an already acknowledged tough KO draw for them, will also be influenced in no small measure by how quickly and successfully a bigger crop of senior figures than just De Villiers get over the lingering effects of much-publicised injuries.
Is it just possible that, in a few cases, some devious wool has been pulled over our eyes and players in question will hit the ground running faster and more majestically than we warily assume they might?
This group of 31 aren’t widely tipped for greatness in England, where a rare multitude of sides are deemed in with a meaningful title shout.
That’s not always a bad thing, as sometimes Bok sides are at their most dangerous and determined when vultures circle over them or darts are thrown their way from all angles.
At the end of the day, South Africa may well live or die more by the sheer gees they can muster than over lingering nitpicking on the merits or demerits of specific selections for the party.
Over to you, then, Messrs Meyer and De Villiers ...
Forwards: Willem Alberts, Schalk Brits, Schalk Burger, Lood de Jager, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Francois Louw, Frans Malherbe, Victor Matfield (vice-captain), Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Adriaan Strauss, Duane Vermeulen
Backs: Jean de Villiers (captain), Damian de Allende, Fourie du Preez, Bryan Habana, Zane Kirchner, Jesse Kriel, Pat Lambie, Willie le Roux, Lwazi Mvovo, Rudy Paige, Ruan Pienaar, JP Pietersen, Handre Pollard, Morne Steyn
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