Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has walked into his first storm – before even taking charge of his first Test match – with mounting criticism of his decision to exclude a clutch of Stormers players from his first Test squad.
On Sunday former Western Province coach Alan Zondagh and former Springbok and Stormers captain Corné Krige slammed Meyer’s selections which saw only three Cape players – Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana and young lock Eben Etsebeth –make the cut in a 32-man squad to face England in a three-Test series.
Meyer found no room for Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Joe Pietersen and Siya Kolisi, all of whom have helped propel the Stormers to the top of the South African conference.
The Bulls (13) and Sharks (11) have by far the largest representation in the Bok squad while the Stormers – easily South Africa’s most consistent team of the past two seasons – have had to make do with a meagre three.
Krige said: “Firstly, I believe Siya Kolisi should’ve been in the squad. He played a massive game (on Saturday) and throughout the season he was a stand-out. Secondly, I am amazed that Gio Aplon and Juan de Jongh were not included in the squad. These guys deliver top performances season in and out for the Stormers and they’ve proved themselves in the Springbok team.
“Another player who should’ve been in the squad was Heinrich Brüssow, but there are always big surprises in the squad and the coach will have to live and die by his decisions.”
Krige was joined in his criticism by Zondagh who said: “I am disgusted that Gio Aplon is not in the squad, there is definitely something wrong there. How is it possible to omit a talent like that? It amazes me. Gio is that type of player you pick first and then the other 14 players.
“I seriously can’t fathom some of the selections. This is not acceptable, it is a disgrace.
“How can one pick a squad of 32 players in South Africa and not include Gio Aplon?
“There are players in the squad that don’t belong, but I seriously couldn’t care about them. Juan de Jongh should also be in that team for sure. No man, I am stunned.
“Look, they are going to win, so then nobody can say anything, but you clearly cannot leave the best players out of the team!”
Although Meyer would have finalised his squad long before, the fact that a depleted Stormers outfit trumped the Bulls 19-14 at a frenzied Loftus in a Super Rugby showdown on Saturday night has only added fuel to the fires of controversy.
However, there may be a small consolation for Cape rugby fans with veteran centre Jean de Villiers likely to be named captain for the England series after scrumhalf Fourie du Preez made himself unavailable.
However, this has done little to assuage fans who have questioned some of Meyer’s selections.
Included in the Bok squad were Bulls stalwarts Zane Kirchner and Wynand Olivier who, despite success at the Bulls, have found the step up to international level too hot to handle. Other surprise selections were Sharks No 8 Ryan Kankowski, who has spent a large part of the season injured, as has Bulls flank Jacques Potgieter, while at scrumhalf, Jano Vermaak has leapfrogged a host of hopefuls despite limited playing time as back-up to Bulls No 9 Francois Hougaard.
Meyer is thought to be playing it safe with his selections due to the short preparation time and has opted for Bulls players who understand his systems from his time as Bulls coach and director of rugby. – Cape Argus