Meyer gambles on experienced 'Springcrocks'

2015-09-09 10:19
Fourie du Preez (Gallo Images)

Johannesburg - South Africa are so obsessed with experience going into the Rugby World Cup that they have included scrumhalf Fourie du Preez although he has not played for seven months.

A survivor of the 2007 World Cup-winning team, Du Preez has not featured in a Test since being injured against Scotland in the middle of last year.

The last competitive match for the 33-year-old was with his Japanese club in February and a proposed comeback during the 2015 Rugby Championship failed to materialise because of a training ground knee injury.

Lured out of international retirement in 2013, Du Preez admits it will take time to regain Test-level sharpness.

"Parts of my game will not be ready," he concedes. "I will have to find them during the World Cup. I do not have a choice.

"I will give my best for the Springboks and if that is not enough, so be it. I put a lot of pressure on myself and it is a good challenge."

The Springboks squad has suffered a glut of injuries during the build-up to the global rugby showpiece in England.

Du Preez, skipper and centre Jean de Villiers and No 8 Duane Vermeulen are the most notable 'crocks', but several other likely first choices will fly to England this weekend distinctly ring rusty.

De Villiers has been particularly unlucky as he broke his jaw against Argentina last month just weeks after completing a miraculous recovery from a career-threatening knee injury.

Columnist and former Springboks official Mark Keohane believes coach Heyneke Meyer is taking a huge gamble.

"It is loyalty at its most extreme and the legacy of the coach will be determined by the battered warriors he has given free World Cup passes.

"He will be remembered for making the bravest call, or his tenure will be defined by an act of lunacy in picking so many crocked players."

Meyer says all 31 players should be available for the Pool B opener against Japan on September 19 in Brighton.

But reports suggest De Villiers, capped 107 times, could miss several games in a pool that also includes Samoa, Scotland and the United States.

Reigning South African Rugby Player of the Year Vermeulen, who epitomises the physicality of the South African pack, is recovering from neck surgery and last played in May.

But Meyer is prepared to gamble as the Springboks seek a record third world title.

"You need experienced players because they know how to handle pressure," explains the 47-year-old whose four-year contract expires after the tournament.

"When the knockout stages come, the pressure will really be on. Guys with cool heads, who will not concede stupid penalties, are going to be needed."

Meyer selected two survivors - lock Victor Matfield and loose forward Schalk Burger - of the 2003 squad that made a timid quarter-finals exit to arch rivals New Zealand.

The pair plus wingers JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana, De Villiers, Du Preez, fellow scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar, hooker Bismarck du Plessis and prop Jannie du Plessis were part of the triumphant 2007 squad.

Add six 2011 survivors, fullback Zane Kirchner, flyhalves Patrick Lambie and Morne Steyn, prop Tendai Mtawarira and loose forwards Willem Alberts and Francois Louw, and there are 15 Springboks with World Cup experience.

Former Springboks coach Nick Mallett expects a conservative game plan from former Bulls handler Meyer.

"It will be a tactical plan, which is basically a kicking game," he predicted.

"Expect a conservative brand of rugby. We will play off turnovers, a great defensive system and good set-pieces."

Senior columnist Dan Retief is concerned that selection and fitness issues mean the puzzle pieces lie scattered.

"The World Cup is not the place to bring it all together so the conclusion must be that while the Springboks can win the tournament ... they probably will not."

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