Pieter de Villiers (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - Springbok scrum coach Pieter de Villiers has confirmed that there will be five props included in the 31-man Rugby World Cup squad that will be announced here in Umhlanga Rocks on Friday night.
According to the supersport.com website, with modern rugby laws as they pertain to the World Cup making it obligatory to have players who can cover both the left and the right side of the scrum on the bench, it was thought that the Boks would take six props to enable more rest opportunity for the group of front-rankers. There has also been a perception that the World Cup regulations stipulate that there have to be three looseheads and three tightheads.
However, when some of the nations who have already named their squads included just five props it raised some eyebrows, and De Villiers confirmed on Wednesday that there is no stipulation directed at the number of props that must be included in the travelling group. The only stipulation is on the number of props that must be included in the match day squads.
“We had the option of taking five or six props. That was the choice we decided we needed to make,” said De Villiers.
“We discussed it earlier this week and five was the number we settled on for the props, with three hookers.”
Whittling the number of props in the quads down by one has a major impact on the likely make-up of the squad, as it means an extra player who has another forward designation can be accommodated. There is a tight squeeze for Meyer at loose-forward in particular, where breakdown coach Richie Gray agreed on Monday that the Boks have an embarrassment of riches.
There is no clarity as yet on whether the Bok group will be made up of 18 forwards and 13 backs, or 17 forwards and 14 backs, but having one less member of the front-row club on the flight to London in a fortnight from now will open up space for an extra lock or loose-forward, or possibly even both.
Pieter-Steph du Toit is in the frame to travel as a player who covers both positions, and if he does so, Meyer is likely to be looking at including five extra loose-forwards and three locks (Eben Etzebeth, Victor Matfield and Lood de Jager surely pick themselves).
The odd number of five suggests that one of the props will be a player who can play both sides of the scrum. That brings Vincent Koch strongly into the equation, but Coenie Oosthuizen, who is understood to now have made a full recovery after his recent operation, is another utility frontranker who could come into strong consideration.
De Villiers denied though that including a player with utility value was quite as big an imperative as it appears to be.
“It is important to have a player like that, but don’t forget that if a player is injured, we can easily call for a replacement,” said De Villiers.
The time it would take to call for a replacement should there be a late injury scare dictates that there will have to be three hookers. The presence of Scarra Ntubeni in the Western Province match day squad for the Currie Cup game against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Friday, the day of the announcement, suggests he is now out of the equation and that the three hookers will be Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss and Schalk Brits.
De Villiers said that first choice tighthead Jannie du Plessis has recovered well from his various niggles and the injury that kept him out of the matches against Argentina and he reckons the Boks are in a good space when it comes to his sphere of influence.
“I thought our performance against Argentina in Buenos Aires showed how important attitude is when it comes to scrumming. We were up for it in that game so our physicality, which was lacking in Durban the week before, was there and everything fitted into place. We are in the position where we are going to have to leave good players who have done well out of the squad. That’s going to be the hard part.”
The smart money should be on the five strong group of props being made up of Du Plessis, Frans Malherbe, Trevor Nyakane, Tendai Mtawarira and one of Koch or Oosthuizen.