This is Boks’ team of the year

2015-10-01 12:20
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)

Newcastle – It was touch-and-go to get a few of their players fit for it, but the Springboks have issued on paper almost certainly their most formidable and talented team of 2015 for the World Cup encounter with Scotland at St James’ Park here on Saturday (17:45 SA time).

The starting XV revealed by Heyneke Meyer on Wednesday evening is desperately close – or even bang on? – to the line-up many purists among the observers back home would have opted for, and even the coach, who always makes a point of his “respect” for the opposition, found it hard to suppress his excitement over the troops at his disposal for the top-of-pool clash.

“I really feel the team as it is developing now ... is going to go far. We have the right mix,” Meyer, an unrecognisable figure from the twitchy, glum one that had faced the media after the Japan horror show, enthused.

Right at the start of what has since developed into a notably up-and-down Test season this year, Meyer appeared to have got it largely right in his selection for the Castle Rugby Championship opener against Australia in Brisbane – and remember that his charges did just about everything but win it as they were a little unjustly pipped 24-20 at the death.

That arguably still, even in defeat, amounts to the most encouraging Bok showing of 2015 thus far, even beating off last weekend’s 46-6 drubbing of lesser power Samoa in Birmingham or the Buenos Aires revenge triumph over Argentina a few weeks ago.

And if anything, the Bok XV running out against Scotland looks even stronger than the line-up that day at Suncorp Stadium.

The only three alterations from then include two particularly crucial ones: Fourie du Preez is back at scrumhalf (in place of Ruan Pienaar, his substitute on Saturday) to bring his unique brand of magic in what will be his second start for the Boks at RWC 2015, including the calm direction his acting captaincy should now provide.

The other comforting development is Duane Vermeulen’s presence at his specialist berth of No 8, where Schalk Burger stood in quite admirably at Brisbane; the in-form blond dynamo moves back to a flank berth, with Marcell Coetzee – who started against Oz – regrettably not even at this World Cup.

In the lone tight-five adjustment from the pack which more than had the Australian measure for the lion’s share of that match, lanky young Lood de Jager comes in for the Boks’ injured, oldest gladiator Victor Matfield.

Remember that Matfield had hurt a hamstring against the Wallabies anyway, and you will find no lack of support for the argument that De Jager, strikingly impressive almost every time he’s seen service this year, being partnered with snarling Eben Etzebeth in the second row is the right medicine for the Boks at this juncture regardless of Matfield’s state of fitness.

Likewise, with the welcome medical green light for Damian de Allende after his right knee mishap against Samoa, the way has been cleared – though Jean de Villiers had just begun to look the real deal again at Villa Park before his wretched, career-ending latest jaw fracture – for his budding midfield alliance with Jesse Kriel to resume in earnest.

It is desperately hard to quibble with the Bok selections elsewhere on the park for Scotland.

Yes, Jannie du Plessis has started this World Cup disappointingly, failing to really impose himself at tighthead prop either against Japan or Samoa and being a bit penalty-prone, but he had been on fire ahead of the tournament and being reunited with his back-in-favour brother Bismarck should help to perk him up.

He will also know that immediate deputy Frans Malherbe is breathing forcefully down his neck.

Most bases also seem well covered on the bench, even if there might be some jitters if a loose forward starter went down early and needed hauling off, given that Willem Alberts is on a last-chance-saloon ticket for participation in the tournament and his readiness for battle is anything but assured.

Meyer also conceded that the “Bone Collector” is not an ideal substitute, being more the brand of blindside flank who likes to impose himself in early skirmishes with big, statement-making hits and drives.

This entire match-day 23 oozes class and potential; it seems tailor-made to catapult the pre-tournament favourites for Pool B to slightly belated occupancy of the top spot in it.

Mind you, the flip side of showing such a strong “first team” hand is this: where exactly do the Boks go from here if this combination comes a cropper at St James’ Park?

It is better to believe it won’t ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing. Rob is attending the Bok pool phase of RWC 2015 to provide news and analysis for Sport24 readers.

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