Boks to pick strongest side for RWC opener

2015-08-31 17:46

Johannesburg - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will have no choice but to pick his best side for the team’s opening Rugby World Cup match against minnows Japan in Brighton on September 19.

According to the website, while the final 31 players announced for the Rugby World Cup regroup this morning in their Umhlanga base, and will get down to the final preparations before leaving for the tournament on September 11, the make-up of the squad means that there is little room for experimentation at the opening game, and the Boks are likely to field their strongest line-up.

There are several good reasons for this, especially in the aftermath of a disappointing lead-in to the World Cup, and the fact that the top Springboks have simply not had enough game time together as a unit before heading to England.

While reports are that the closed training sessions have looked good, there simply isn’t a substitute for match day form, something the Bok coach knows. Still, the amount of walking wounded players are a massive concern going into the tournament.

Medical reports have suggested these players will be fit by the opening game against Japan, which gives Meyer the chance to play the likes of Jean de Villiers, Fourie du Preez and Coenie Oosthuizen in the opening game and allow them to work their way back into match form.

The only specific worry is Duane Vermeulen, who is likely to miss the opening game but will be ready for the second game of the tournament against Samoa. All these players mentioned are easy choices when they are fit and in match form, and the coach has gambled a lot on getting them ready for the showpiece tournament.

The Boks will go into the game knowing they have two objectives for the World Cup. First they need to qualify for the playoff rounds and secondly have to build momentum going into the playoff rounds.

With this in mind, it is likely that Meyer will want to make a strong statement in the opening game, not only to hush his critics, but also to give the squad time together before the Samoan game and to gain some momentum.

Japan are likely to be far from the physical match the Boks are expecting from Samoa a week later, but it will be imperative to ensure the team gets enough time together to gel before taking on the Samoans, who looked impressive in going down by three points to the Barbarians XV on Saturday in London.

The Boks will need to play their best line-up in the games against Samoa and Scotland, meaning some of the fringe players are hardly likely to get a run before the final pool match against the USA at the Olympic Stadium, and possibly only one chance to impress the coach.

From the quarterfinals onwards the Boks will always field their best line-up, barring injuries, and there will be the hope that those players requiring game time will do so through the four pool games and be in form by the time the playoff rounds come along.

The uncertainty about the form of the likes of Du Preez, Vermeulen and the others has certainly not helped the Boks talent in the eyes of their supporters, but if the medical team are to be believed, they will be ready and have already rejoined the practice sessions for the team.

Du Preez – possibly the most honest player in the squad – said plainly that he didn’t feel he was 100% ready at this moment to go to the World Cup, but was confident that with two more weeks he would be okay.

“It was a freak accident at training, it was quite a big setback for me and I had to work really hard to get back into contention for the World Cup. If I had to be honest, I’d say I’m not 100 percent but I’ve worked so hard to get here and to be here, that I will give my all.

“I should be ready in two weeks and that is my goal. It’s a process and I’m confident I will get there.

"From previous experience of coming back after long lay-offs, I only need about 20 minutes to pick up the pace and rhythm of the game again. I’m not as confident this time, but if you ask me that question with two more weeks of training, I might be able to say with confidence I’ll only need a short time on the field to be up to speed," he said.

"The World Cup is a long tournament and hopefully I can get an opportunity to play in the pool stages to build towards the quarterfinals and get into the form I want to reach."

Meyer is of the firm belief that all these players will pick up form quickly, and if they do, the Boks will be bolstered by their presence, and stronger by the time they reach the playoffs.

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