Heyneke Meyer (Gallo)
London – Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has
all but confirmed a remarkable development, considering the mass woes
perpetually suffered earlier in the year: a clean bill of squad health as they
prepare to enter the critical knockout phase of RWC 2015.
Speaking at the press conference immediately
following their Pool B-clinching 64-0 thrashing of the United States at the
Olympic Stadium here on Wednesday, he told Sport24 he believed his match-day 23
had come through – pending the all-clear from medical staff -- without any
serious injuries to report.
It was a gratifying statement for him to be
able to make, considering that some eyebrows had been raised over his virtual
“first-team” selection despite the game coming so soon after the previous one
against Scotland in Newcastle.
But by laying solid foundations via the
majority of his senior personnel all over again, the Boks were able to open
enough of a lead against the minnows to justify significant plunder of his
bench resources even before the hour mark was reached.
Only one of his impressively industrious,
starting tight-five – Eben Etzebeth – was eventually required to complete the
entire match, limiting the threat of burnout in a particularly demanding area,
and the Boks now have the luxury of a 10-day gap anyway ahead of their
quarter-final against either Wales or Australia.
If that welcome break is enough to get
first-choice right wing JP Pietersen suitably fit again, then the Boks, touch
wood, will be in the very advantageous position of all 31 members of their
tournament squad being in the mix for the outset of the knockout phase.
Bear in mind that Meyer had indicated
before the USA game that both Victor Matfield and Jannie du Plessis, who have
been carrying niggles, could have been considered for their pool-ending fixture
at a push.
“I’m very happy we came through (seemingly
unscathed) against the US ... there are some bumps and bruises and the doc
(Craig Roberts) is with the guys right now but I don’t believe there are any
major, major injuries to deal with,” he explained.
“So we are really blessed and lucky on that
“We have a good break now and will need to
come back fresh (for the knockouts). I wouldn’t say surprised, necessarily, but
I am happy with the way we came through this particular game because we weren’t
“You’d (expect) that perhaps in a three-day
turnaround: it was the first time I have experienced that phenomenon as
national coach. I was also happy with the fresh players who came on (off the
bench): we stuck to our structure.
“The guys really all put their bodies on
the line, and the senior ones (especially). But some younger players (stood up
too) ... they might not have been carrying as many knocks and bruises, but the
defence of Handre (Pollard), Damian (de Allende) and Jesse (Kriel) was
excellent, and performance of the two
locks ... perhaps those were the most pleasing aspects of the game to
Meyer can now feel more justified, too, in
having fielded for the third time in some 11 days several players who had been
drastically short of match-time ahead of the World Cup.
“Don’t forget that for a guy like Duane Vermeulen
this was only his third game (after a long layoff), and Flo (Louw) and Fourie (du
Preez) hadn’t played a lot previously either.
“We haven’t been sharp for much of this
year; just hadn’t been able to get going. It had been so frustrating ... at one
stage, every second game we seemed to lose a captain.
“But I am really happy with the continuity
now; a lot of players who had been out are getting properly rugby-fit – a guy
like Duane must get a lot of credit alongside Fourie and Schalk (Burger) for
the way he’s been running the defence as an experienced player.
“The defence has sometimes been awesome.”
Greater clarity on the Bok squad’s
collective health will be given on Sunday evening at a briefing at the team
hotel by Dr Roberts, following a few days of well-merited “R & R” for the
But the portents, at long last and at such
a pivotal time, seem surprising good ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing. Rob is attending the Bok pool phase
of RWC 2015 to provide news and analysis for Sport24 readers.