Johannesburg - There will always be critics and Heyneke Meyer will always have his detractors, but no-one should have a gripe about the state of Springbok rugby. Just over a year out from the 2015 World Cup, South Africa are in a very strong position - and that can’t be denied.
Meyer has made all the right selections, he’s brought back some old heads where necessary, he’s integrated seriously promising youngsters, and his team are scoring tries and winning on a regular basis. There’s passion in the squad and a desire to keep getting better, to be the best team in the world.
Springbok rugby is healthy - the way it should be considering the talent and depth in this country - but it also requires the right man to blend it all together. Meyer has done that, and the country should congratulate him for it. But, let’s also not kid ourselves. Not until Meyer’s team can beat New Zealand on a regular basis, home and away - something the All Blacks have done for years now against us - will the doubters and critics be swayed.
The Boks played some sparkling rugby against a World XV, Wales and Scotland last month, but remember Wales are sixth in the world rankings and Scotland eighth. The Boks should always beat those teams.
The real test for Meyer will come in the Rugby Championship and at next year’s World Cup. That is what he and his charges will be judged on. And while the Boks look to be stronger all-round than they did a year ago, the challenge for Meyer is to be even better going forward, and peaking at the World Cup.
It’s a challenge because the vast majority of the South African players are being played into the ground, fatigue is setting in and injuries are spiralling. Also, will the older members of the squad be in peak condition this time next year? This is where Meyer’s man-management will be crucial going forward… and, of course, his selections.
The Bok boss will have a good idea who the chosen 30 men are to represent the country in England next year, but crucially he shouldn’t be stubborn when it comes to settling on the best men for the job. I’m not saying toss the old guard out, but Meyer will have to make some seriously tough calls in the build-up to the World Cup. Players he’s backed may have to be left out and others who he’s put a question mark behind included… his selections will now be the toughest part of his job.
This year’s Rugby Championship, which gets under way next month, promises to be a thriller. We’ll see if Australia are on the up, if New Zealand are on the wane and if the Boks are going to head to the World Cup in 2015 with the perfect squad, with just the right mix of youth and experience. The real Tests still lie ahead.