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