Cape Town - Heyneke Meyer admits that the superb performance of his new-look team against Scotland will “make it very difficult” for him to pick a squad for the Rugby Championship in August.
Seven overseas-based players were unavailable for Saturday night’s 55-6 triumph at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, while an incredible 18 players were either injured before or during the June international window.
Captain Jean de Villiers should return for the opening Rugby Championship clash against Argentina on August 16 in Pretoria, and lock Eben Etzebeth and flyhalf Pat Lambie are expected to make their comebacks in the next two weeks for the Stormers and Sharks respectively.
But there are still doubts about the fitness of Tendai Mtawarira and Johan Goosen, while Willem Alberts also didn’t recover from concussion in time for the Scotland game.
New faces such as Handré Pollard, Lood de Jager and Cornal Hendricks have caught the eye, though, so it will be a fine balancing act for Meyer and his selectors Peter Jooste and Ian McIntosh over the next few months.
Asked if he had more answers than questions after the Scotland game, Meyer said: “Ja, definitely. The one that we are proud of is that we said in three years, we want to win all our Incoming Tours, and this is the last one before the World Cup. So we ticked all the boxes there. And with Flip out and Eben out and a lot of four locks out, suddenly we were really in trouble. But luckily Lood came through.
“There is a little bit of pressure at five lock at the moment, and luckily Victor is back to his best. So there are a lot of guys coming through. There is a lot of rugby, and if you take into consideration that we’ve got plus-minus 30 guys out, it’s going to be very difficult to pick a 30-man squad.
“But that’s the great thing – this team knows that there are no favourites, it’s just about what happens on the day. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, if you perform, you are going to be in contention. Three years back we started with youngsters, and then as the injuries mounted, we got a lot of older players back into the side. I must say that a lot of them played brilliantly tonight.
“A guy like JP – we asked him for a big performance tonight, but it’s also great that when we had injuries again, the youngsters came through. I think we’ve got 40 unbelievable players who we can pick from, so I’m very happy that guys are coming through. The future looks very great.”
The Boks scored an outstanding 23 tries in the four June internationals against the World XV, Wales (twice) and Scotland, and didn’t lose their attacking rhythm with a new flyhalf in Handré Pollard against Scotland. Pollard oozed class on debut, and it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say that he could be a real contender for Morné Steyn’s No 10 jersey.
But it was only against a weakened Scottish side, and Pollard should perhaps first have to come through tougher examinations before becoming the first-choice flyhalf.
“We got quick ball in the first 20 minutes, and Handré was brilliant in running on to the ball. We were awesome when we got quick ball,” Meyer said. “We needed a flyhalf to stand up, especially a young flyhalf, and he (Pollard) was awesome when he got ball on the front foot, like we’ve known. Mature head on his shoulders, and I thought he really, really played well.
“I am so proud of him and Jan (Serfontein) because Jan did struggle with defence way back, and now three weeks in a row, he’s put in the biggest tackle. I thought he was awesome on defence with a youngster on his inside.
“It’s a pity about Johan Goosen being injured, but Pollard is a shining diamond. It’s up to him now, but I think he is good enough to keep on playing for his country for a long time.”
But now Meyer will be a nervous man as many of his stars return to Super Rugby combat for their franchises for the next few weeks. The Sharks are already in the playoffs, so many of their players could continue playing for even longer.
It will be difficult for a coach like Jake White to rest any of his top players, as the Sharks need to beat both the Cheetahs and Stormers away from home to challenge for top spot on the overall log.
“A lot of these guys have been with us for three weeks and played a lot, but by resting them and taking them out of sessions, they were ready to fire today. I’m talking about the youngsters as well coming in, like Marcell (Coetzee) who has really been training hard, Meyer said.
“So they were battle-ready when they came on today. But it (the players going back to Super Rugby) is a concern for me and unfortunately, it’s not in my hands. It’s in the hands of the Super Rugby coaches, and there are certain guys who really played a lot of rugby, and we need them fresh in the Championship. You can just see the difference in training when there were fresh guys training who were mentally excited to play.
“But I have a lot of belief in the franchises and hopefully they will do the right thing for their country.”